LOCAL SCENE Coaches take extra care to protect their football players from the heat

The recent tragedies from heatstroke have attracted the attention of coaches.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Two-a-day practices begin for Ohio high school football teams Monday, and many area coaches are taking extra care to protect players from the heat.
"As far as I'm concerned, we've always been careful," said Austintown Fitch coach Carl Pelini. "But each coach is responsible for a relatively small number of people, so we need to make sure nothing happens."
Warren native and Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer died Wednesday from complications of heatstroke the day after collapsing during a pre-season practice. A week earlier, a Florida college running back became the third college football player to die from heatstroke in the past two years.
Attention: The tragedies have gotten the attention of coaches.
"We're definitely aware of it," said Girard coach Bud McSuley. "We've been checking the local weather every day and we're discussing it with parents and players. We've really got to take care to make sure nothing happens."
At least 18 college and high school players have died over the past six years from heat injuries, and the Ohio High School Athletic Association has reacted with stricter guidelines. Especially with football.
Training: Head coaches must now take CPR training and complete a first aid course. Players cannot wear full pads during the first three days of practice and contact is prohibited the first four days. Water must be available to players at all times.
Pelini came to Fitch from Kansas City, where the heat and humidity is normally much worse than northeast Ohio. In addition to having water at practices, Pelini supplies fruit and sports drinks such as Gatorade after practice.
"But there's two problems," he said. "First, people think sports drinks are a cure-all, but nothing replenishes immediately. Second, and this might be a little far-out, but I see kids staying indoors in the air conditioning more and they're not used to the weather. When we were kids, we went outside more and stayed active."
Information: The OHSAA sends out information on heat stroke prevention and most schools have athletic trainers available. Players must pass physicals and coaches must weigh players at the beginning and end of practices.
Pelini said some players come to camp out of shape and aren't used to the heat. They often end up pushing themselves too hard.
"Whether it's intrinsic or they're getting pressure from teammates, players with heat-related injuries or other injuries stay on the field when it's really counterproductive," Pelini said.
Still, things have improved since McSuley played, he said.
"We listen a lot more now than they did," he said. "Way back when, they'd just say to tough it up a little bit. Now we're watching everyone really close."
Schedule: Chaney coach Ron Berdis schedules his first practice at 7:30 a.m. to avoid the afternoon heat. He also has players remove equipment during heavier exercise. He said he watches the players close, but needs them to tell him when they are having problems.
Heavier players carry the highest risk, Berdis said.
"We keep track of weight and if a kid loses eight or nine pounds during a session, we obviously keep an eye on him," he said. "You always have to be conscious of the risk."

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