Aug 14, 2018
Leading the Charge

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) changed its heat-related policies a decade ago after a high school football player in the state died due to heat stroke. Since then, the KHSAA has become a leader in heat safety within the U.S.

An article from the Courier Journal reports that Kentucky was recently ranked sixth by the Korey Stringer Institute for its heat-safety measures. These include having requirements for air-conditioned practice breaks, policies to ease players into summer workouts and respond to signs of heat stress, and mandating cooling tubs and heat stress monitors.

“We’ve been ahead of the curve for a number of years, especially for a small state,” Julian Tackett, Commissioner of the KHSAA, said. “We do take a lot of pride in it, but we don’t get complacent, either.”

The KHSAA had a heat plan in place before Max Gilpin, a football player at Pleasure Ridge Park, passed away 10 years ago of a heat-related illness. This included adjusting uniforms depending on the heat index, mandatory water breaks, and stopping outside activity if the heat index reached 105.

In the time since Gilpin’s death, there have been two significant changes. First, cooling tubs are now used for athletes with heat-related stress. Second, coaches must complete a four-hour safety course that is updated every two years.

“Back then we were focused more on prevention,” Tackett said. “There was still a lot of debate in the medical industry as far as what you should and shouldn’t do if something happened. Since that 10-year period, there’s a lot more focused research that shows the cooling tub is absolutely essential. We need to get that core temperature down.”

At a district level, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) implemented an annual 90-minute “Character First” seminar centered on all aspects of coaching. The biggest change, however, is that all of the district’s 21 high schools have a certified athletic trainer now.

“I think we had three or four athletic trainers 10 years ago – and now we have 21 that are fully funded,” Jerry Wyman, Director of Athletics for JCPS, said. “And now we typically have one at just about every middle school event. We’re very lucky.”

Although games get more attention, having another set of eyes is especially important during the week for practices. The athletic trainers are better able to catch some of the signs of trouble earlier than coaches.

“We’re doing nothing but watching kids who might have problems,” Bill Cubbage, ATC, Certified Athletic Trainer for Trinity High School, said. “The coaches are paying attention to practice and whether the kids are doing their drills correctly. [ – ] Everybody in the past thought you just had to have [athletic trainer] coverage for a football game on a Friday night. To be honest, I’m less busy on a game night than on a practice day. The major stuff seems to happen Monday through Thursday, not on Friday.”

As Cubbage’s observation indicates, the perspective on safety precautions has shifted over the years, as well. For example, players now have ready access to water — a change from prior eras.

“I think a lot of that has bled out of our system,” Chris Wolfe, Head Football Coach at Louisville Male High School, said. “I think in that era coaches were coming out of World War II and the Korean War, and football training was treated like training camp for soldiers. Coaches today grew up in a different era and have been around all the stuff the KHSAA has talked about and have a better understanding. I think there’s a better understanding that this isn’t life or death and safety is of the utmost priority.”

Image by Dr. Dennis Cronk.

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