How hot is too hot for high school athletes? With the mild summer, schools haven't had to worry much about it yet, but the state is cracking down on what conditions are acceptable for practices and games.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association's new policies are in effect for this season and apply to all sports, whether they’re played inside or outside. They’re focused on the heat index – the combination of temperature and humidity.
Coaches and trainers say heat is always a concern, and they’re not afraid of new policies.
“I've done this 17 years, and we've had some hot ones, and it's been tough on kids,” East Lansing football coach Mark Pendred said during a day full of scrimmages in St. Johns.
Tough enough that MHSAA decided it was time to step in.
“We new that a lot of schools already had strong policies, but we thought we can create this one for the ones that don't,” MHSAA Media and Content Coordinator Geoff Kimmerly said. “For those schools that would like something more uniform, they can adopt this if they'd like.”
It's a “model policy,” not required, but strongly encouraging schools to monitor the heat index closely. It advises athletic programs to take measurements 30 minutes before activity starts and an hour after play begins to ensure weather conditions aren't putting athletes at risk.
“That's really what this is all about is keeping our athletes safe and making high school athletics as safe as possible,” Kimmerly said.
Part of the policy includes recommendations for specific measurements. For instance, if the heat index is below 95, activities can go on as usual. If it’s between 95 and 99, they're supposed to increase water breaks and reduce time outside. When it goes above 99, athletes should also be allowed to change clothes and remove equipment, and if it gets higher than 104, all activity should stop.
MHSAA hopes schools will appoint one person per team to be in charge of taking and recording the measurements, like a trainer or coach.
“Heat illness is a serious thing and it can progress quickly,” East Lansing’s athletic trainer Missy Phillips said. “Prevention is key.”
Like many trainers and athletic directors throughout the state, Missy Phillips has already started following the policies. She’s looking forward to when MHSAA launches a web portal for athletic administrators to input and store their measurements, so athletic directors can monitor their own school and others.
“Just gathering data is always good to see what the trends are,” Phillips said.
Coaches feel it won’t interfere with the game too much.
“We'll see how it goes, but I think they're doing what's best for kids,” Pendred said.
When post-season play begins, MSHAA will be strictly enforcing these guidelines. In the meantime, they hope coaches will get a psychrometer device that measures the heat index digitally.
MHSAA is also developing a mobile app to make it even easier for schools to monitor the weather right from the field.
The webpage for athletic administrators to keep track of heat index information is expected to go live by the end of the week.