Sammy Howard was resting in air-conditioned comfort, thankful he wasn’t out in the heat preparing a high school football team for its opening game.
Before he was mayor of Phenix City before he was president of F&M Bank before he was headmaster at Glenwood School he was a football coach in three states. A good one, too.
He coached in hot locales, but never did he face the heat issues that coaches face today. “Those kids are so much bigger now, and they don’t know how to handle it,” he says. “It’s a fine line. You have to get them ready to play but you can’t overwork them.”
Here it is August, and we’ve buried players in Locust Grove, Ga.; Miramar, Fla.; Lamar, S.C.; and Fitzgerald, Ga.
Fatalities are almost expected, as if death is a rite of passage for teens who play the game.
The Georgia High School Association, a detached organization that prefers to be left alone, has issued a statement. Lawyers are involved so GHSA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin chose words carefully. He pointed out that the University of Georgia is in the third year of a three-year study on behalf of the GHSA.
Swearngin wants scientific data but the only data needed are the death certificates of two young boys that dreamed of playing football. He refers coaches to GHSA bylaw 2.67.
It calls for a written policy for conducting practices during extreme heat that must be signed by every coach and player. It must include:
The time of day practices should be scheduled at various levels of heat and humidity.
The ratio of workout time to time allotted for rest and hydration.
The level of heat and humidity that would lead to practice being cancelled.
Howard has visited some local workouts and has seen some good things. He just wishes the season would start later. He remembers coaching boys in Yazoo City, Miss., who had grown up picking cotton. They could work all day. This was before air-conditioning.
Players today bulk up their frames but are softer in other areas. Coaches are supposed to be cognizant of these threats, unlike when Howard played at Central High in Phenix City. “When we had a break at practice we ran over to a faucet on the side of the building. We all drank out of one hose, and we didn’t get sick either.”
At the University of Alabama under Bear Bryant, off-season drills were worse than the spring. “We practiced in the gym,” Howard. “There was a rule that if you got sick you had to make it to the trash can. You weren’t supposed to lose it on the floor.”
Coaches are more informed today. Local schools are blessed by the presence of the Hughston Sports Medicine facility. They have trained professionals coaches can consult.
But the GHSA can forget scientific studies and bylaws, the answer is common sense, plenty of ice, lots of water -- and more than one hose.