The fall sports season starts soon, but the summer heat is hanging around longer than expected.
A stubborn ridge of high pressure anchored over Texas has kept temperatures higher than normal, according to David Munyan, meteorologist at the National Weather Service Midland-Odessa office. With highs predicted to reach up to 107 degrees throughout the week, the extreme heat can be dangerous for anyone engaged in outdoor activities.
In response, Midland High and Legacy High have adjusted practice times and routines to keep student-athletes safe. This is especially true for football players.
“Our No. 1 defense against heat-related illnesses is to change practice times,” Steven Ortiz, head trainer at LHS, said in a news release.
Football practice for both the Rebels and Bulldogs starts at about 6 a.m. and lasts about 2 hours, with plenty of breaks and water widely available. “We have water everywhere, and students can get it whenever they want, not just during scheduled breaks,” Ortiz said.
While still warm, the early mornings have been much cooler than the late afternoons, which typically are the hottest part of the day in West Texas.
“It was 84 degrees outside this Monday morning, so we were able to get in a great practice under the lights,” said Thad Fortune, head football coach at MHS. “Our kids are in great shape, but the heat doesn’t care about that. When it’s 105 out, that’s a whole different animal altogether.”
Still, student-athletes need to prepare for the playing in the heat, and practicing when it’s hot out ahead of the regular season is part of the acclimation process.
“When kickoff begins at 7:30 p.m., it’s going to be in the 90s,” said Clint Hartman, head football coach LHS. “We have to get kids acclimated to the heat for their safety.”
Acclimation starts during summer strength and conditioning.
“When our kids are lifting weights, it’s not 100 degrees, but it’s also not 72 degrees like at home,” said John Overton, head trainer at MHS. “Strength and conditioning starts the process of getting athletes slowly acclimated to physical activity in the heat.”
Over the past few weeks, acclimation has continued during late afternoon practices, which last about an hour and are limited to walkthroughs. No pads, no helmets, no strenuous activity.
“The body loses most of its heat through the head and places where there is a lot of blood flow, like the chest,” Overton said. “Helmets and shoulder pads cover these areas and can restrict the body’s temperature regulation, which is why we don’t have our athletes in equipment when it’s extremely hot.”
Fortune says walkthroughs are beneficial to players. “They’re like a moving meeting. We watch film, get on the whiteboard and then go on the field and show them in a walkthrough situation. Some kids learn better this way, and it’s a very good teaching method all around.”
While much is done to keep student-athletes safe during practice, prevention is critical, and it’s important for the student-athletes themselves to be prepared.
“Hydration is absolutely critical, and it starts the night before,” Ortiz said. “We educate students to drink lots of water so that they’re ready for the loss of fluids that happens during practice,” adding that Gatorade and other sports drinks are not a “straight substitute” for water.
“Eating bananas, oranges and other water-dense foods is critical after practice,” Ortiz said. “Often, our kids don’t want to eat after practice, but we encourage them to find a way because eating is important to recovery.”
The MHS and LHS football booster clubs have stepped up to provide snacks for players, which in the case of football can number in the hundreds when taking into account the freshmen, junior varsity and varsity squads.
“Parents are a big part of preparation, as well,” Overton said. “They need to encourage their child to stay hydrated with water — not iced tea, soft drinks or energy drinks.” And if a student is sick the day before practice, they should tell a coach or trainer. “It alerts us to pay closer attention to that athlete because if they were sick or didn’t feel well before practice, they could be very dehydrated, which can be dangerous.”
MHS and LHS follow district and University Interscholastic League guidelines for safety and emergencies.
In the event that a student-athlete shows signs of heat stroke on the field, trainers and staff are ready to deploy the tarp-assisted cooling oscillation (or TACO) method. The person is quickly moved onto a tarp, and personnel lift up the sides of the tarp while the person is doused with water and ice. The tarp holders then oscillate the sides up and down, which keeps the body covered with ice cold water.
“We still have the traditional ice baths recommended by the UIL, but we train using the TACO method because it’s more mobile and has shown to be as effective,” Ortiz said. “It lets us bring aid to the player far faster.”
After cooling has been initiated, 911 is called and aid continues in an attempt to lower the person’s body temperature.
Munyan, the NWS meteorologist, says the current hot weather is not normal for our area this time of year. Because of this, MHS and LHS have had to change practice times and routines, which can be inconvenient for parents.
“We ask that parents be patient with us,” Hartman said. “I fully understand that parents want a routine, but what’s happening with the heat isn’t routine. We have to do whatever it takes for our kids to be safe at practice.”