By Kim Walkover
Florida summers and unbearable heat are like the Fourth of July and fireworks — you can’t have one without the other. Anyone who has experienced a summer here knows that the moment they step outside, the sweat will start to bead.
This summer, the heat is proving to be even worse than normal. The over-the-top temperatures affect everyone, including local high school athletes who are busy preparing for their upcoming seasons.
According to the National Weather Service, the average temperature in Land O’ Lakes during the month of July is 92 degrees. While that is a high number, this month has already seen days reaching even higher, up to 95 degrees with heat indexes climbing in the low 100s.
So how are local high school coaches protecting themselves and their athletes from potentially fatal heat-related illnesses?
Land O’ Lakes High School football coach Matt Kitchie wasn’t shy about talking about the precautions he and his staff take when it comes to their players.
The most important one is water.
“I have a ‘water anytime’ policy,” Kitchie said. “If a kid needs water, he gets water.”
He also said that there are water coolers all around the playing field and that an athlete is never more than a few steps from being able to hydrate.
Kitchie’s athletes are practicing four mornings a week from 7:30–9:30 with one hour in the weight room and one hour outside. Kitchie said that being outside in the morning helps the players get acclimated to the heat and prepares them for the looming August temperatures.
His team also plays one night a week in the North Suncoast 7-on-7 league against other schools in the county. He said it’s a way to have the kids outside running around, playing some football and having fun without having to be in the scorching afternoon sun.
“We don’t have issues with the heat because we are very proactive about it,” Kitchie said. “We don’t punish anyone if they need to step out because they’re overheated. We want them to be at their best. If something happens to them, they can’t be at their best and play, and we want them to play.”
Kitchie said that all coaches in the area feel the same way about preventing any kind of heat illness. One of those coaches is Wesley Chapel High School football coach Ben Alford. Alford also practices the “water anytime” policy and says his athletes know that water is always available to them.
“I was an athlete so I know from experience when someone needs a break and needs water,” said Alford.
Like the Land O’Lakes athletes, the Wesley Chapel football players are also practicing four mornings a week to avoid the afternoon heat. However, instead of playing in the 7-on-7 league, the team has evening practices on the same days they participate in the morning sessions.
At times the heat can cancel those games as happened at a recent 7-on-7 game between Freedom High and Gaither High July 21. The heat index was higher than 100 and both coaches felt it was best to stop the game before it started.
“We don’t want someone to get sick,” said Freedom coach Tchecoy Blount said. “The kids are working to get into shape for the season, but we need to make sure they are safe too.”
In addition to heat, Florida summers generally guarantee an afternoon rainstorm that springs up for at least a quick, middle-of-the-day cool down, if not an all out torrential downpour.
However, there has been little relief for the athletes this summer as the area has yet to accumulate even half of the monthly average of 7.69 inches. According to the National Weather Service, as of July 15, only 2.38 inches had been accounted for in Land O’ Lakes.
-Staff Writer Kyle LoJacono contributed to this story.