Thursday, August 02, 2001

NFL player's death raises awareness about heat

Athletes should stay hydrated

By Rekha Sharma
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Thousands of Tristate athletes are getting in shape for soccer and football seasons in the same kind of heat and humidity that killed Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer on Wednesday.

        Cincinnati health officials declared the city's second heat alert of the year when the heat index rose to 98 degrees. The alert was continued to today.

[photo] Covington Catholic senior David Connor cools off during football practice Wednesday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Some coaches talked about Mr. Stringer's death at football practices in Northern Kentucky Wednesday. They were watching their players carefully, telling them to drink water frequently. Beechwood High School's afternoon practice was canceled because of the heat.

        Mr. Stringer's death came six days after a University of Florida freshman died of heatstroke following a workout. Across the country, 18 high school or college players have died from heat since 1995, according to a University of North Carolina report.

        Underclassmen may be the most at risk because they push themselves harder than seasoned players, says Danielle Dietrich, an Oak Hills senior who is conditioning with other students in preparation for the soccer season. She said freshmen don't want to appear weak by getting extra water between water breaks.

        “I tell them to go get water,” she said Wednesday. “I'd rather that they go get a drink and come back rejuvenated than die on us.”

        Fatalities from heatstroke are rare, and primarily affect the elderly.

        The Hamilton County Injury Surveillance System reports 24 heat-related deaths between 1997 and 1999, but none were of people under age 30. In 1999, 72 people were admitted to emergency rooms for excessive heat, and eight of those cases involved people between the ages of 15 and 19.

        People are also at risk of heat exhaustion in the kind of hot and humid weather that prompted City Health Commissioner Dr. Malcolm Adcock to declare the heat alert. The heat index takes into account temperature, humidity and dew point, he said. One case of heat exhaustion was reported during Wednesday's heat alert, a construction worker in Northern Kentucky.        

Back in gear

        Kentucky's high school football season starts earlier than in Ohio, so Northern Kentucky students are already in preseason practices wearing equipment.

    Tips on avoiding heat exhaustion and heatstroke:
    • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
    • Take breaks in the shade every 20 to 30 minutes and drink fluids to rehydrate your body.
    • Drink 20 to 40 ounces of fluids the night before a game or practice. Then drink 20 to 30 ounces more two to three hours before the game or practice. Finally, drink about 10 ounces 30 minutes before the activity.
    • Avoid alcoholic beverages, carbonated soft drinks and caffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea. They act as diuretics, making the body lose fluid rather than retain it.
    • For early symptoms such as headaches or dizziness, get out of the sun and drink fluids such as water, sports drinks or juices with a carbohydrate content lower than 7 percent. More severe symptoms such as not sweating or vomiting indicate that an immediate trip to the emergency room is necessary.
    Source: Dr. Timothy Kremchek, medical director and chief orthopedist for the Cincinnati Reds
    Some of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke:
    • Muscle cramps.
    • Nausea.
    • Vomiting.
    • Double vision or blurred vision.
    • Headaches.
    • Person stops sweating.
    • Passing out.
   Source: Dr. Timothy Kremchek, Medical Director and Chief Orthapoedist for the Cincinnati Reds.
        “We've never had any serious heat illnesses, thank God,” said Lynn Ray, a football coach at Covington Catholic High School. “We're actually luckier than the pros because the pros can't control their environment. They're supposed to show up at camp in shape. Here, we can get them in shape before camp starts.

        “Before the season starts, we have an organized running program. We run to acclimate ourselves to the July and August hot weather. Gradually, we work into practice with shoulder pads and helmets. We do it gradually to break them in.”

        Mike Yeagle, football coach at Beechwood High School, said his team has full practices for two hours twice a day.

        “We watch our kids very closely, and our kids run year-round,” he said, noting that only one player has experienced any problems because of the heat during five practices. “The key is to keep them in shape.”

        Mr. Yeagle says the 105 freshman and varsity players have practiced in shorts and T-shirts and only this week put on full padding.

        On Wednesday, they worked from 9 to 11 a.m. and skipped the afternoon practice because of the heat. Mr. Yeagle said the team trainer and 10 coaches supervising practices use common sense in deciding what conditions are safe for the players.        

Use common sense

        Ken Minor, a football coach at Reading High School, said athletes at the school's conditioning camp are provided with water to ensure that they are properly hydrated.

        “We're not taking any chances,” said Mr. Minor, whose team, like others in Ohio, will not begin full practice until Aug. 6. “Every kid is different, depending on how heavy they sweat.

        “I just remember one or two boys, over the years, who got flushed out pretty bad, and we had to throw water on them and give them fluids.”

        Chuck Laumann, who coaches girls soccer at Oak Hills High School, said he often schedules practices in the evenings to keep the players and the coaching staff comfortable.

        “It's just common sense,” he said. “If I'm standing there wringing wet and thirsty from just coaching, I know the girls are thirsty.”

        He said the players don't go more than 20 minutes without a break, and water is accessible within 20 to 30 yards. A nutritionist also comes in before try-outs to talk to players about proper hydration.

        Ms. Dietrich said training from 9 a.m. to noon can still be draining because of the heat. And while the water breaks come about every half hour, she always needs more.

        Dr. Timothy Kremchek, Medical Director for the Cincinnati Reds, said when the body's temperature rises above its normal 98.6 degrees, it cools itself by producing sweat. If a person is dehydrated and cannot sweat, organ systems can shut down and death can occur.

        Professional and student athletes are not the only ones who have to be careful of such situations, said Dr. Kremchek, who also works with nine high schools in the Tristate. Recreational athletes should also monitor their health.

        “It's the guys playing golf on Sundays,” he said. “They're at the same risk.”

       Enquirer reporters Tom Groeschen, Bill Weathers and Jim Hannah contributed to this story.

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