Even after Labor Day, it still sizzles here
By Eugenio Torrens
After every drill in practice, Academy at the Lakes football coach John Castelamare lets his students go to “heaven” and immerse themselves in it.
“Heaven” is the name for the 12 water fountains where players go for a respite from the grueling heat and demanding practices.
Castelamare, who is in his second year coaching the private school’s six-man team, tells his kids to do more than drink water. He tells them to wet everything.
“Most of the time, you keep drinking water, it’s not the greatest thing,” he said. “You wet yourself, wet your head, wet your shoulders. Just don’t get my helmets wet.”
Spending time in, let alone practicing in the unforgiving Florida heat can be dangerous. Castelamare, who has been a coach for 40 years and coached at Wesley Chapel from 1999-2009, knows it and advises his players accordingly. He had a nutritionist speak to the team who stressed the importance of being well-fed — not just hydrated.
Staying hydrated and well nourished, in addition to staying well rested, are a few of the steps people can take to protect themselves from Florida’s infamous heat and humidy.
Although the calendar has flipped to September and fall weather has started to take hold of northern states, it is just another summer month to Florida. The thermometer may creep down a couple of degrees during the day, but it’s hardly autumnal weather.
With schools back in session, this is the time when children can still work up a dripping sweat outside for fall sports or in physical education (PE) class.
What makes children and adolescents that much more susceptible to the heat is the fact they may not be aware of the damage that can be done or of the symptoms that the heat is taking its toll.
As effective as the buddy system is — having athletes or kids and their peers pipe up if they notice something wrong — a large burden of responsibility lies with the adults who are in supervisory roles.
And at schools, that means teachers and coaches play the role.
Sean Brock, supervisor of physical education for Pasco County schools, said general guidelines are sent at the beginning of each school year to every teacher who deals with outdoor activities. The guidelines include being aware of the heat, symptoms of heat illness and first-aid type procedures.
Most of it, Brock said, is a common sense approach: frequent water breaks, limiting outdoor exposure during the hottest part of the day and taking advantage of covered shelters.
As a former PE teacher and football coach, Steve Vanoer knows the perils of overdoing it in hot environments.
Now the supervisor of PE and health of the Hillsborough County schools, Vanoer said teachers are urged to modify lesson plans if the heat seems overbearing.
“If you’re doing a track and field unit and it’s 98 degrees and the humidity is high, then what you want to do is change that lesson plan or modify it so that students aren’t engaging in an activity that is already strenuous and compounded by warm weather.”
He said teachers are well aware of the heat, because they are the ones that spend more time in it. Elementary school kids typically spend 20-30 minutes outside. Middle and high schoolers may be outdoors for 50 minutes. Teachers can be outside for up to seven hours.
Most PE students won’t necessarily suffer any serious heat-related injuries, but kids participating in after-school athletics run a greater risk. This is where the buddy system is especially effective.
“The coaches have a lot of kids they have to watch, so they have to inform their athletes,” said Melanie Cole, an exercise physiologist and radio host on www.healthradio.net.
Unfortunately, kids playing sports sometimes aren’t as upfront about fatigue as they should be. There can be added pressure when kids are competing for playing time.
“If he’s your star athlete, he’s your star athlete — but he needs to take a break too,” Cole said.
As more knowledge about the dangers of heat exertion sprouts up, there is more of a willingness to nip the problem in the bud.
Michael Bergeron, director for the National Institute for Athletic Health and Performance at Sanford in South Dakota, said the risk of heat-related illnesses depends on the preparation of those out in the sun. Acclimating to the heat is a huge factor. He pointed out how a majority of heat-stroke deaths in sports occur early in the practice season.
“Clearly, they’re doing too much too soon,” Bergeron said. “There’s a lot of professionalization of youth sports these days. These kids are not professionals. There’s no reason to work them that hard and push them like they’re going to be professionals.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t work hard, but you’re not training Navy SEALs.”
This means not to have kids who spend a lot of time indoors over the summer go out the first day and play like they’re in mid-season form.
Another vital factor is the humidity. Florida heat isn’t necessarily the same as Arizona heat for example.
The high levels of humidity in Florida prevent efficient methods for the body to cool itself, including sweating. More humidity means there is more resistance to evaporation. So rather than sweat evaporating and cooling you, it just gathers.
The worst condition — a familiar scene for Floridians — is a hot, sunny, still day with no breeze and high humidity.
The Florida Office of Vital Statistics reported 24 deaths in the state during 2009 from exposure to excessive natural heat. According to natural hazard statistics from the National Weather Service, the United States averaged 115 heat-related deaths between 2001-2010.
Things to watch for suggesting the heat is getting to someone is profuse sweating, muscle cramps, nausea and overall lowered physical performance. These are signs the person needs to stop, be taken to a shaded area and hydrated. More severe signs are lack of sweating and flush-red skin.
“That’s when it gets scary,” Cole said. “Their core temperature could be going up to 105 (degrees) or higher and if you don’t get them cooled down, things that could start to happen are nerve damage and brain problems, organ failure.”
This doesn’t mean kids aren’t safe outside.
“There is a lot of latitude that we give in essentially saying that healthy kids and adolescents can be safe, as long as the modifiable factors are modified,” Bergeron said. “You don’t want to push somebody to do something they’re not ready for.”
More information on heat-related illnesses and symptoms can be found at www.healthradio.net, www.cdc.gov, or www.sanfordresearch.org.
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