More has to be done to prevent athlete deaths



Sports Editor note: This column first appeared in our Aug. 6 County Press, sister paper to the View Newspapers.

W e haven’t even started official fall practices for high school and middle schoolers here in Michigan, yet at least three football players have died at the high school and college level after suffering complications from heat stroke.

All schools in Michigan have policies and procedures in place to try to identify and quickly treat any athlete that appears to be suffering from the heat and humidity that is part of the fall sports scene. The problem is, it’s hard to identify that in players, especially on the football field when they are suited up in pads, helmets and full uniform.

Kent State football player Tyler Henitz died of hyperthermia, the body’s inability to cool itself, in a preliminary autopsy. He was practicing drills in June in 81 degrees with the humidity level at 65 percent. A 16-year-old Florida high school player died on June 29 after collapsing after a late-morning drill session.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says males are at the highest risk of suffering exertional heat illnesses requiring treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Another study shows that an alarming two-thirds of kids show up to practice significantly dehydrated. That’s in all sports.

Every parent, caretaker, coach and high school/middle school needs to step up its awareness as we head into the first official week of high school practices that start on Monday. We can’t let one more child die from being overheated. Players need to be just as vigilant and say something when they see a player in trouble. No one wants to be that player that raises his hand and says, “coach, I need help”, but every player in every sport should be prepared to do just that. There should be no shame in that, either. Too hot is too hot and everyone’s body handles heat and humidity differently.

Parents, police your child’s drinking habits carefully on the days they will be practicing in heat and humidity. Caffeinated drinks are their worst enemy. Kids dislike water, but that and sports drinks are the best thing for them. Too much sports drinks can also be detrimental, so watch the consumption of those, too.

Everyone should be watching the kids. Kids that don’t feel well when they show up to practice should be given a pass for the day or a much lighter practice regimen. Make sure your kids know the warning signs before they reach the stage of heat illness or heat exhaustion. The MHSAA has several documents on its web site that can help the players, parents and the schools prevent another tragedy. Runners not accustomed to the heat, volleyball players practicing in hot gyms, tennis players who have to withstand the added heat radiating from the courts are all just as susceptible as the football players. Start the conversation again at the lunch and dinner table tonight. Next week the kids will be going full at it in the heat of the afternoon rather than the early morning or evening. Let’s all be part of the solution to stop these needless deaths.

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