By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The heat wave that’s traveled across Michigan during these last few weeks of July is another reminder of the importance of preparing for activity in hot weather in advance of Michigan High School Athletic Association fall practices kicking off the new school year early next month.
Each year, the MHSAA provides information to its member schools to help them prepare for hot weather practice and game conditions during the late summer and early fall. Football practice can begin at MHSAA schools August 8, followed by first practices for all other fall sports August 10.
The topic of heat-related injuries receives a lot of attention at this time of year, especially when deaths at the professional, collegiate and interscholastic levels of sport occur, and especially since they are preventable in most cases with the proper precautions.
“Like many things that remain constant from year to year in educational athletics, preparation for hot weather activity is something we must continue to emphasize for our returning athletes and also a new class taking the field for the first time,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “If we take the precautions we should and plan as we should, we will avoid more of these tragedies in school sports.”
A number of member schools continue to follow the MHSAA’s Model Policy for Managing Heat & Humidity, which while not mandated for member schools was adopted as a rule for MHSAA postseason competition in 2013. The plan directs schools to begin monitoring the heat index at the activity site once the air temperature reaches 80 degrees and provides recommendations when the heat index reaches certain points, including ceasing activities when it rises above 104 degrees.
To also assist in acclimatization, football practice rule changes adopted in 2014 allow for only helmets to be worn during the first two days, only shoulder pads to be added on the third and fourth days, and full pads to not be worn until the fifth day of team practice. The policy in detail can be found on the Football page of the MHSAA Website.
Heat, hydration and acclimatization also are again focuses of the MHSAA’s required preseason rules meetings for coaches and officials. The online presentation discusses the need for good hydration in sports, regardless of the activity or time of year. The MHSAA requires all head varsity, varsity assistant and subvarsity coaches at the high school level to complete a rules and risk minimization meeting requirement.
The model heat & humidity policy is outlined in a number of places, including the publication Heat Ways, which is available for download from the MHSAA Website. Roberts reminded that the first days of formal practices in hot weather should be more for heat acclimatization than the conditioning of athletes, and that practices in such conditions need planning to become longer and more strenuous over a gradual progression of time. He noted that schools also must consider moving practices to different locations or different times of day, or change practice plans to include different activities depending on the conditions.
The Health & Safety Resources page of the MHSAA Website has a number of links to various publications and information and a free online presentation on preventing heat illness from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Also accessible through the MHSAA Health & Safety page are resources from Sparrow Health System, a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, which lends expertise on-site at various MHSAA tournament events and provides an online “Ask the Experts” feature to connect MHSAA.com users with Sparrow sports medicine caregivers.
“It is important for participants and their parents as well as coaches and administrators to become informed on how best to prepare for activity in hot weather,” Roberts added. “All involved need to be knowledgeable about proper hydration and the dangers of practicing and competing when the heat and humidity are too high.”