If this were the summer of 2011, Jasper (Ga.) Pickens High's football program might be attending a funeral for one of its own players in the coming days. Luckily it's not, and thanks to new regulations intended to help guard against heat stroke, Jasper players have a teammate back watching on the sideline, with a view to returning to practice as early as next week.
"The things they're doing with the temperature guidelines, it's good," Pickens football coach Chris Parker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It holds people accountable. We're much more educated on how to handle those things. When most of us first started coaching, we didn't know any better."
Parker and the rest of his program got to see just how much of a difference the new regulations could make on Thursday, when a defensive lineman became dangerously sick at the end of practice. The day's workouts, the second set allowed by Georgia High School Activities Association regulations, were held in steamy conditions, though temperatures were not as hot as many of the days which provided a significant threat during the summer of 2011.
Regardless of the relatively decreased threat to athletes, Pickens trainers had a cold immersion tub available for players after the workouts as a way to try and get their body temperatures back into a normal level. According to the Journal-Constitution, new state health regulations require those tubs to be available whenever a wet-bulb temperature reads 92 degrees or higher, but Pickens felt that it should keep a cold tub available just in case, given the early practice and increased threat to players not yet in competitive condition.
That decision may have been a lifesaver, as the unnamed defensive lineman who became sick was quickly moved to the cold tub, helping cool down his core temperature and bring him back from the brink of heat stroke. The player was still sent to the hospital with complications from cramps, but that he quickly improved and was released from the hospital within a couple of days.
Those cramps may not have been enjoyable, but they were certainly a step up from full-blown, deadly heat stroke.
As Parker noted, the new regulations put in place have set a new baseline that should help coaches and players deal with dangerous heat, but ensuring everyone stays safe will require plenty of quick thinking and reacting to ensure that everything that is supposed to happen does happen and lives are saved as a result.
So far, so good in Georgia. If the rest of the nation is as successful, much of the heartache that washed across the American South like the heat that preceded it in 2011 will be avoided this time around.