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Keep those juices flowing

August 11, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

When Mike Tesla played high school soccer in the 1960s, there was no water on the field and coaches gave players salt tablets in an effort to prevent dehydration.

"You had to 'be a man' back then," said the athletic director at South Hagerstown High School.

Things have come a long way.

Salt is banned, since research has since shown it damages the stomach lining. Water always is available, with frequent breaks encouraged.

The collapse of several high-profile athletes on the practice field, some with tragic consequences, has raised awareness of the dangers of dehydration.

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Two years ago, 335-pound linebacker Korey Stringer died at a sweltering Minnesota Vikings summer training camp.

The Jacksonville Jaguars moved some of their practices to the cooler evening hours last month after two players suffered heat-related problems.

Tesla and other Tri-State area athletic directors said those events have helped raise awareness among coaches and student athletes.

At James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa., the decision about whether to limit or cancel sports practices has been taken out of coaches' hands as a safety precaution, said Athletic Director Dick Heckman. An athletic trainer monitors the practices and has the final say over the activities.

"We don't want some overzealous coach to say, 'well, it's not that hot,'" Heckman said.

There have been no heat-related emergencies at the school in the past two or three years since the policy was implemented, Heckman said. In the past, ambulances have been called to treat students suffering from heat exhaustion. None of the cases was life-threatening, he said.

Coaches are trained about the seriousness of heat exhaustion and students have unlimited access to water through a spigot that runs from the school to the fields, he said.

Student athletes can minimize the problem by keeping active in the off-season and acclimating to the hot weather, Tesla said. He estimated that only 20 percent of the school's athletes will be in

shape before the summer practices start this month.

Some members of the football team have been lifting weights and running on a regular basis.

Coaches can notice a difference right off the bat between those athletes and the ones who have been sitting in the air-conditioning all summer playing video games or watching television, Tesla said.

Washington County Public Schools has slightly revised

its guidelines for summer practices to take into account air quality, said Edward Masood, supervisor of the arts, health, physical education and athletics. Coaches are to give mandatory water breaks every 20 minutes on Code Red days when the temperature climbs above 90 degrees.

When schools are dismissed early because of heat, no practices or games are allowed.

As a precaution, most Tri-State area schools also require pre-season physicals.

Coaches said making sure

students get enough water is the key.

"We try to impress upon them to not deprive themselves of water," said Bill Sterner, head football coach at Hancock Middle-Senior High School.

Practices are held from 9 to 11 a.m. and again from 4 to 6 p.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day, he said.

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