New 'heat acclimatization' rules for high school athletes in Maryland requre coaches to ease in teams to long practices and full pads during preseason's hot months.
As preseason high school sports practices begin in Montgomery County this weekend, administrators want parents to be aware of new safety guidelines for student athletes.
In July 2009, 16-year old Edwin Miller collapsed and died during a preseason football training session at Northwestern High School in Germantown. His parents filed a negligence lawsuit against the school board claiming Miller died of heat stroke after coaches pushed him too hard during the late summer workout.
Heat related deaths and injuries to high school athletes in preseason are on the rise. That’s according to the University of North Carolina’s Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury. Twenty high school football players have died from heat stroke around the U.S. since 2006.
Three years later, a new state law is in effect that requires county schools systems to adopt pre-season practice heat acclimatization guidelines for student athletes. Researchers believe coaches can avoid heat-related problems with heat acclimatization, a technique designed to raise an athlete's ability to tolerate heat by gradually getting them used to playing in hot weather.
"In the first four or five days, you don't want to have 'two-a-day' practices," says, Doug Casa of the University of Connecticut’s Kory Stringer Institute explains. "You also want to phase in the equipment, so you're not in full gear until day four or five."
In addition, the first few practices should be shorter, maybe only two hours instead of three, Casa says. He and his colleagues worked with Montgomery and other counties in the state to help craft the new pre-season practice guidelines.
The new guidelines, which include revised practice and recovery periods along with minimum hydration recommendations, have created a renewed awareness among Montgomery County coaching staff and students about the danger of heat related illness, says Duke Beatty, athletics director for Montgomery County Schools.
"I think we know a lot more than we used to know and I think we have a lot more information to show," Beatty says. "I also think we're doing a better job at getting the information out."
Coaches are required to complete an annual heat acclimatization course.