Stringer's death increases awareness
The memory of Korey Stringer will be engraved forever in the minds of the people he touched.
The way he died should serve as a lesson for the young football players who share Stringer's NFL dreams.
An offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, Stringer passed away last summer after suffering from complications of heatstroke.
One year later, high school football teams across the country are preparing for the 2002 season. Only this time, they are doing so with Korey Stringer, a Warren native, in mind.
They are doing so with the dangers of heat in mind.
"What it did was change public awareness," said Hank Zaborniak, assistant commissioner for the Ohio High School Athletic Association. "The other thing it did was change coaches who maybe became a little lackadaisical."
When Zaborniak played at Brookside High in Lorain County in the 1970s, coaches didn't always take precautions to avoid the heat. You practiced often in pads, didn't get water breaks and took salt tablets after practice.
"A lot of the older coaches think that if you're giving your kids water, you're making them sissies," Zaborniak said. "Today, that mentality to deny water is very unusual."
Kennedy Catholic head coach John Turco agreed.
"We've come a long way since the dark ages," he said.
The OHSAA has rules in place to protect student-athletes from the heat. Still, they are on a self-regulating basis, meaning schools and their coaches need to take the lead role in ensuring safety.
"Coaches are always pretty cautious," said Ursuline first-year head coach Dan Murphy. "It was an unforeseen circumstance that happened last summer [with Stringer]. When it happens to someone close to home, it's an eye opener for a lot of people."
The OHSAA requires water to be available on the field during practice and games, and coaches must be present. It also requires a weight chart to be used to track any dramatic changes in players from day to day.
"The thing that we're stressing to our players is the need to hydrate prior to practice," Warren Harding coach Thom McDaniels said. "That means drinking fluids at home before you come to practice."
Kennedy Catholic plays its home games in the afternoon. Early-season games can sometimes be tough to bear because of the heat.
"If we see a kid getting distressed, we just stop them," Turco said. "We're just real careful. We've never had any problem and we don't want to now."
The OHSAA encourages its athletic directors to talk to their fall sports coaches about the heat.
"But it's especially scary in football," Zaborniak said. "With the equipment, the body can't get rid of the heat like it needs to."
Ohio high school football teams also are required to allow for four days of acclimation.
In the first three days of practice, players wear only helmets and avoid contact. The full uniform is allowed in the fourth day, still with no contact. On the fifth day, players are permitted to wear their full uniform and participate in full-contact drills.
"We emphasize the need to practice smart," McDaniels said. "We don't go full pads if the heat and humidity are too high."
When two-a-days begin Monday for Ohio teams, coaches must remember to protect their players. All it takes is a few simple measures and the memory of a local standout.
"Unfortunately, when people lose their lives, things become important. Then we are all given a wake-up call," Turco said. "God knows you don't want it to happen to one of your kids."
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe Scalzo also contributed to this report.