Keeping cool in the heat

MHSAA initiative takes aim at injury and illness prevention in warm weather

By: Mike Moore | C&G Newspapers | Published August 27, 2013

If there’s anything predictable about Michigan weather, it’s the unpredictability of Michigan weather.

So, now that the unseasonable cool air in mid-August has retreated and more typical summer-like weather has returned, prep athletes are dealing with the reality of August practices.

With that in mind, the Michigan High School Athletic Association is attempting to gain an upper hand for its athletes on any heat-related illness, or worse, by adopting a model policy for managing heat and humidity.

The policy serves as a cheat sheet for high school coaches and administrators, said John Johnson, the MHSAA communications director.

“It’s something that really brings us toward the circle of best practices,” Johnson said. “Other state associations, particularly in the South, have had some kind of policy which goes to the point of having a rule for high heat indexes. We haven’t gone to that point here in Michigan because of how diverse the weather can be, but to have the policy and to recommend schools take a good hard look at it at the local level, is something that has been very well received.”

The policy outlines certain objectives and steps to be taken, depending on heat index readings.

For example, if the heat index is anywhere below 95 degrees, it’s recommended to simply provide ample water, take appropriate breaks and monitor all activities.

There are suggestions for a heat index ranging in the 95-99 degrees mark, the 99-104 mark and anything above a 104 heat index whereby all activities outside should be stopped and moved indoors.

As Johnson said, these are not rules, but recommendations.

“The key here is, heat stroke is 100 percent preventable,” Johnson added. “We aren’t going to catch everything with this, but we can at least assist. These are reinforcements, something to give direction. … A lot of it is common sense, but then again, how often do you see kids take a water break and not actually drink water? We’re just trying to help coaches in these areas to make activities as safe as possible.”

Even with temperatures cooler than normal this year, Dr. Peter Biglin said heat illness is still a very real possibility.

Biglin, a Beaumont sports medicine physician and a team physician with Oakland University, said he’s seen just about everything, when it comes to heat illness.

“There is such a wide spectrum of diseases that can affect athletes,” Biglin said. “Heat stroke, obviously, is the big one and possible in temps like we’ve had. Kids that are larger, or more obese, are naturally at a greater risk. Heat cramping or simple dehydration can certainly happen.”

Biglin stressed hydration — before, during and after activity — stating, like Johnson, that “heat illness is common but so very preventable.”

With heat-related deaths taking a more national stage the past few years at just about every level, Johnson said this was the MHSAA’s way of getting out in front of a potential problem.

The MHSAA has been fairly fortunate in avoiding major cases.

To Johnson’s best recollection, the last heat-related death by an MHSAA athlete was in August of 2000.

Johnson said heat index decisions during practice and conditioning fall on local coaches and administrators. The same is true for actual game action during the regular season.

“But come postseason time, specifically in June, like we experienced in 2012, then it’s our call,” Johnson added. “If necessary, during postseason action, the MHSAA would have the power to postpone events due to heat.”