Prep Rally

After deaths, Georgia school districts cancel outdoor practices

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

The day after two Georgia teenagers died of complications from practicing football in extreme heat, some areas of the state suspended outdoor activities for school-aged athletes in an effort to minimize the threat posed by holding practices in dangerous heat indexes.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seven school districts canceled or delayed all outdoor activities during the height of expected temperatures on Wednesday, with similar adjustments expected for the remainder of the week. The most drastic measures were taken by Henry County, Ga., which canceled all outdoor activities altogether in a decision made unilaterally by Henry County assistant superintendent Rodney Bowler.

The decisions to delay or cancel daytime outdoor activities came as medical experts told RivalsHigh that heat-related deaths in young athletes are nearly always preventable if proper preventative measures are taken.

While Henry County may have stolen the headlines by completely canceling outdoor activities altogether, the school district was hardly alone. Atlanta Public Schools delayed all outdoor activities on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday until after 6 p.m., when the days highest temperatures and heat indexes were expected to have passed. Paulding County Schools took identical measures for Wednesday and Thursday, though it did not take a stand on Friday practices as of yet.

Meanwhile, three other school districts announced bans on any outdoor activities between noon and 6 p.m. None of those three school groups -- Cobb County schools, Cherokee County schools and Decatur High School -- gave any indication of when those restrictions might be lifted, with Cobb County officially making the 12-6 ban permanent "until further notice."

One other Georgia school district also pulled the plug on its teams' practice schedules because of the dangerous heat besetting the Atlanta area as well. Clayton County Schools canceled football practices for all schools on Wednesday, though the athletic director and football coach at Drew (Ga.) High made it sound as if it might be some time before its football program returned to business as usual.

"They will notify us as to our future practice availability," Drew AD and football coach Jarrett Laws told the Journal-Constitution. "I've made a personal decision to practice in top shells and shorts in order to assist in the kids care."

Another area coach made clear just how concerned he and other prep coaches were about players' health in the wake of the recent devastating deaths.

"I addressed the deaths with the team," Central Gwinnett (Ga.) High football coach Todd Wofford told the Journal-Constitution. "I just asked if they had heard about the incidents and encouraged them to drink as much water as they could, even when they weren't thirsty -- and that includes throughout the school year."

The rash of safety-related cancellations follows a deadly Tuesday in which Fitzgerald (Ga.) High defensive lineman Don'terio Searcy and Locust Grove (Ga.) High offensive lineman Forest Jones lost their lives. Jones had been hospitalized in intensive care after falling ill with heat stroke a week earlier, but lost a prolonged battle against the illness on Tuesday.

The two Georgia deaths marked four deaths in four days tied to football practices being held in extreme temperatures across the American South.

A day later, Jones' father weighed in on his son's passing to the Journal-Constitution, telling the newspaper's Michael Carvell that he was convinced his son's fate was the result of an athlete who pushed himself too hard and failed to listen to his body.

"I just want to get a message to all these kids out there, that your body tells you when it needs to rest," Jones' father, Glenn Jones, told the Journal-Constitution. "Listen to your body, tell your coaches, tell your parents."

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