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Sports Article
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Coping With the Heat
Written by Bradley Schlegel Staff Reporter

Upper Perkiomen football players hydrate during pre-season practice. The team spent its initial week acclimating to warm weather.

Tribe football spends first week of practice getting used to warm temperatures.

        Roberta Simmons checked the numbers on her heat and humidity gauge last Thursday afternoon. The temperature on the turf football field hit 108 degrees, and the relative humidity was unusually high.

        So Simmons, an athletic trainer at Upper Perkiomen High School, cut the football team's second practice session of the day short.

        Two days later, Simmons cancelled the second of two scheduled practices before the Indians hit the field.  "The conditions were even worse," she said.

        While Upper Perkiomen's football team spent last week complying with the heat acclimatization program, required by the PIAA, the school's athletic training staff took responsibility for determining unsafe playing conditions and ending or eliminating outdoor practices.

        Head coach Tom Hontz called Sharon Schoelkopf, the school's head athletic trainer, the gatekeeper.  "Sharon is the ultimate decider in terms of which players get pulled from practice for health reasons," Hontz said.  "She keeps track of the heat index, and she makes the call if we end practice early."

        The heat acclimatization policy is intended to help players grow accustomed to practicing in equipment before contact is allowed, according to Melissa Mertz, the PIAA's associate executive director. She said that on average, kids are less active outside than they were 15 or 20 years ago.  "It was imperative that we get something in place," Mertz said.

        She said the ultimate goal of the program is to reduce the number of heat-related deaths, which are totally preventable.  Thirty one high school football players died from heat stroke complications between 1995 and 2009, according to information from the Korey Stringer Institute.

        Beginning Aug. 8, players were required to practice for five consecutive days without hitting contact. The rules, initially implemented in 2013 and expanded two years later, limits the team practices to three two-a-day sessions on odd days and single practices on the even days, according to Mertz.

        The initial two days, the players were limited to wearing helmets and shoulder pads. By the third day, they wore full pads. Contact drills were allowed to commence Monday, the first official day of fall practice.

        According to Schoelkopf, the decision to cancel or truncate a practice occurs when the temperature and humidity overlap on a coordinated chart. She said the temperature of the turf is usually 10 percent warmer than the air.

        Schoelkopf said the training staff has the authority to determine whether or not the players practice without helmets and shoulder pads and require water breaks every 15 minutes. She added that those standards will continue until the temperature drops.

        Hontz called it the new normal. Despite his self-characterization as an "old-school guy," he understands the need to keep his players healthy.

        "Ultimately, it's my responsibility to listen to the trainer and make sure the kids are taken care of," the coach said.       "We're very fortunate to have some excellent trainers."

        The Boyertown football team did not miss any practice sessions during the heat acclimatization program, according to athletic director Dominic Palladino.

        He said the coach staff, led by head coach George Parkinson, relied on the judgement of its two athletic trainers to monitor the weather, and the health of their players.

        "Coach Parkinson understands that the kids need to be in good health," Parkinson said. "He did whatever the trainers suggested. He works very well with the trainers."

        The heat acclimatization program does not mandate that the trainers become the ultimate arbitrators of weather conditions, according to Mertz. She said it recommends that all responsible adults – coaches, the athletic directors and trainers – confer on the decision.






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