Lesson learned by near tragedy

The moment Tom Owen heard of Korey Stringer's death, his mind played back to 1973.
It was another hot day in Northeast Ohio, with high humidity. The recollection, however, still chills Owen.
Owen was standing on the West Branch High practice field overseeing the linebackers for head coach Dick Hartzell. He also handled the training duties for the Warriors.
Little did Owen know that day, his duties would be put to use.
Handling the heat: "I tried to get a good hour and a half workout out of the kids in the morning," Hartzell explained. "I don't believe you can change the intensity of practice [because of the heat]. What you can change is the duration of practice in the humidity, and monitor the breaks."
But sometimes, as the West Branch coaching staff learned, it's hard to cover every facet of practice.
"We took water breaks at two different times during practice. We thought we had enough water on the field," Hartzell said.
Situated on the West Branch field were two tanks of water, with four hoses extended from each.
"The truth was, in hindsight, that wasn't enough water," Hartzell said.
Motivated Mudger: Then 170 pounds, Terry Mudger came to practice fighting for a starting defensive end job. He wasn't about to give in.
"At the first break, everyone got a rinse, and he ended up at the back of the line," Hartzell said. "I didn't check if everyone got a drink. Terry Mudger didn't get a drink."
Owen said, "He just went back to practice. He was that kind of kid -- he wouldn't miss a practice at all."
The humidity rose during West Branch's next session, and the Warriors -- wearing pads -- stopped for another break. But Mudger was at the end of the line again and didn't get a drink.
"The big thing I remember would be my heart beating so loud, I could hear it pounding in my hears," Mudger said. "I told one of the coaches -- and I could barely get it out -- that my heart was beating. He said, 'It's supposed to be,' and then I passed out."
Owen immediately sent for an ambulance. Meanwhile, he worked to cool Mudger's body temperature.
First, Owen moved Mudger into the shade, laid him on the ground and used an entire can of spray ice on him, and after that a couple of ice bags.
"They got my body cooled down real quick," Mudger said. "When I woke, there were 50 guys staring at me, and I didn't have any clothes on."
Death triggered memory: When Stringer died last week from heatstroke, Owen quickly remembered Terry Mudger.
"It's still scary thinking about it," he said. "That's still vivid in my mind. If something would have happened to Terry, that would have driven me right out of coaching."
But because of Owen and the West Branch coaches, Mudger survived.
"I can thank the coaches for what they did," Mudger said. "They acted fast."
A lot was learned from the incident with Mudger, and Hartzell, who coached the Warriors from 1972-78, altered his methods.
"We required each youngster to bring a jug of water," Hartzell said. "We double-checked at the end of each break that everyone got a drink of water."
Athletes used to take salt tablets and wait until the end of practice to get their first drink of water. The incident at West Branch opened some eyes.
"After that, we always had ice on the field," Owen said. "We made sure to stress to the players that they had to get water whether they were thirsty or not. It only takes one time for something to happen."
West Branch had a 9-1 record that season and won the Mahoning Valley Conference. The Warriors did it with Terry Mudger as part of the team.
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at richesson@vindy.com.

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