Recent football-related deaths in other parts of the country bring focus on hydration - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

Recent football-related deaths in other parts of the country bring focus on hydration

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Posted: Monday, August 8, 2011 1:00 pm | Updated: 9:10 pm, Thu Apr 19, 2012.

This is the time of year when football helmets have athletic tape scrawled across the front with each player's name written hastily by a Sharpie, so it might be a good idea to substitute the name "Stringer" for everyone.

Or maybe simply "Hydrate."

It would serve as another reminder to the football community, as if the five deaths across the nation in less than a week isn't enough, that practicing with helmets on in unrelenting heat is not exactly a good mix.

"As a coach it is something that is constantly on your mind," Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. "You can't afford not to because a mistake in this area can lead to a tragedy."

Believe it or not, Monday had been 10 years since Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heat stroke and brought national attention to the perils of a rising heat index and football intermingling.

The Vikings honored him with a big No. 77 on their practice field this week, but unfortunately there might be plenty more memorials in store after a slew of football related deaths.

Across the nation there have already been four high school football players die and one coach. Heat illness or heat stroke, defined as body temperatures above 104 degrees, are suspected in most cases but official rulings haven't been announced yet.

While the reasoning behind the tragic deaths are not confirmed it isn't hard to connect the dots.

All of the players were from southern states - South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. The coach, 55-year-old Wade McLain, was from Texas.

The players were all out in the heat for an extended time, exerting energy and their bodies overheated.

What isn't known is how much or what (supplements, energy drinks) they ingested leading up to practice.

Coaches know enough about the risks to make hydrating a priority at the start of the camp and let the players know the process doesn't start when they arrive at the practice field.

"My coaches and parents have always told that you start two days before the first practice and you keep drinking," Desert Vista offensive lineman junior Zach Tamburo said. "You can't just show up, drink one bottle of water and expect it to be enough."

Tamburo said last summer he found out how dangerous it could be after not drinking enough fluids before a practice.

"I about passed out a couple of times," he said. "You get light-headed, your vision gets blurry and you lose your balance. I told my head coach so I took a break, got some water and eventually got back in there, but I learned my lesson."

McClintock's Matt Lewis and Mountain Pointe's Norris Vaughan have experience in Texas and Georgia, respectively, where some of the deaths this year occurred.

Vaughan said the climate in Arizona and Georgia are different, but both are volatile.

"In Georgia it is the humidity that gets you," he said. "You sweat and it doesn't evaporate. It just hangs on you and unless you wipe it off it doesn't let the heat escape."

In other words, clothes and equipment become like a pool cover. The heat pounds on the cover all day, warming the water several degrees higher than it normally would be and remains at an elevated temp there until the cover is removed.

"We have the same safety checks in place at Mountain Pointe that I did in Georgia," Vaughan said. "It is something that has to be monitored by everyone on the field, players, coaches, trainers. Everyone is aware of the signs and the consequences."

Lewis said he has already sat down a player this week after noticing said player wasn't quite as active as he normally is during practice.

"He was uncharacteristically slow so I pulled him out," said Lewis, who was a head coach and athletic director from 2004 to 2006 in Texas at small college prep school. "I told him that I am not upset, I am concerned and I took him over to the trainer.

"I took advantage of my time as an AD and got some training. He wasn't properly hydrated and we had to do something about it."

Thankfully as the incidents seem to pop up more regularly across the nation, extremes or worst-case scenarios haven't played out in Arizona.

The last case is believed to have happened in 1988 when Phoenix Shadow Mountain's Abdul Reed collapsed and died.

"I am surprised when I think back that there weren't more incidents," said Hinds, who played at McClintock. "It was a different style back then and there were times where we didn't get any water. It was how they toughened us up."

It is hard to pinpoint why, but it might simply be because Arizonans are so used to triple digit heat that they automatically hydrate and rarely go anywhere without having water with them or have misters somewhere near by.

"I think they are acclimatized to it," Lewis said. "If a kid from (Los Angeles) came over here in a helmet and started running around it would affect them more than someone who lived here. There are stages to it. Every coach will tell you the first day of helmets the kids are going to be a little slower and not as peppy. The same for shells and dressed out.

"Each time you have to know that day the possibility of heat illness increases. As a coach this is the one thing you would not be able to live with if you were to lose."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

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