COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina trails North Carolina and Georgia in how it protects high school football players from possible heat-related illnesses, according to a national non-profit group. The Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut works with sports groups and the military to prevent sudden death in active populations. It says South Carolina has adopted only one of seven recommended guidelines for getting football players acclimated to high heat.
University of South Carolina professor Susan Yeargin serves on the medical advisory board of the Korey Stringer Institute and specializes in exertional heat illnesses. She says South Carolina already follows the guideline of having helmets be the only protective gear players wear for the first two days of practice. But the recommendation is that, during days 3-5, only helmets and shoulder pads should be worn, with full pads not being used until day 6.
The South Carolina High School League would have to adopt the guidelines, which 16 states, including Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi have done. SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton says the state has adopted most of the recommendations, but there may be some differences.
For example, the guidelines call for a three-hour rest period between practices when teams have two practices a day. SCHSL’s handbook calls for a two-hour rest period. Dr. Yeargin says, “We need to make sure that athletes have appropriate rest between practices to dissipate heat, recover, hydrate, eat, all those really important things to get them back out onto the field.”
She says South Carolina also does not have a formal policy for coaches to measure weather conditions and modify practices based on those conditions. “If it’s over 92 the practice or the game should be canceled,” she says. “If it’s like 90 degrees, then there should be breaks every 10 minutes for at least 5 to 10 minutes.”
She says Georgia has good guidelines that South Carolina could easily adopt. “A lot of people say, ‘Well, if you follow some guidelines, South Carolina will never be practicing because it’s always hot.’ Well, the guidelines that Georgia has are very liberal but at the same time protect their players.”
According to the Korey Stringer Institute, the states that have adopted and followed their guidelines have had no heat-related deaths among high school athletes.