Safety first: Local officials played it cool through heat wave

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John Barry
Sunday, September 15, 2013

The heat is on.

Or at least it was recently for those participating in fall sports.

While Friday night’s football games required long sleeves and pants, scorching temperatures and the oppressive humidity earlier this week forced athletes to proceed with caution. It forced athletic trainers, athletic directors and coaches to err on the side of caution.  Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash are not built into the daily practice regimen.

“The most important thing to remember for me is that these are somebody else’s sons and daughters that I’m coaching,” Janesville Craig co-cross country coach Brian Lawton said. “I am responsible for them and try to treat them the same way I would want my own kids to be treated.

“We’ve never changed something we were going to do because of the heat, and if the athlete is hydrated and has taken the necessary steps beforehand to prepare, then there shouldn’t be a problem.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Lawton doesn’t keep a close eye on his runners during days like last Monday and Tuesday when temperatures were in the upper 90s. He looks for signs of heat-related problems, such as lack of sweating, instability and breathing difficulities. If he sees any problems at all, he immediately pulls the runner off the course or practice route.

The majority of area sporting events went on as scheduled, but there were a limited number of cancelations. Delavan-Darien scrapped its co-ed cross country meet with Beloit Memorial because of the heat. Delavan-Darien Athletic Director Craig Lodahl said the decision to cancel was a simple one.

“It ultimately comes down to the fact that one race is not going to make a difference in the season compared to someone’s health,” Lodahl said.

“We change our routine in weather like this because it’s about the safety and well-being of our student-athletes. That comes first.”

Lodahl said the football team normally is not allowed to take off their helmets during practice, but that was lifted because of the heat. Tuesday night’s soccer game between Waterford and Delavan-Darien featured breaks at the 20-minute mark of each half so players could get water and cool down.

Hydrating is far and away the No. 1 priority for beating the heat and avoiding any heat-related illnesses. Whether its filling up on water during the day or on one of the numerous sports drinks on the market that replenish electrolytes to the body, athletes need to hydrate 24/7.

“You can try and do different things to combat the heat, such as shortening practice, taking more breaks or running less, but if the athletes are not drinking enough fluids and taking care of themselves outside of school activities, it’s not going to make that much of a difference,” said Milton High Athletic Director Brian Hammil. “We do everything we can to make sure that there are extra fluids on hand, plenty of ice and cold towels, and a place to go to get in the shade for a bit, but it’s up to the athletes to take care of themselves, too.”

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