Blair Oaks football coach Ted LePage probably isn’t too much different than most high school coaches.
“My wife always tells me on July 4th she begins to see my mind wander,” said LePage.
That wandering usually turns to focus this time of year. Practice for high school fall sports began yesterday and all the planning coaches do over the summer can now be put to good use. However, this year—especially in Missouri—there may be a little more than just X’s and O’s to worry about.
The death of MU football player Aaron O’Neal may have some rethinking and reinforcing more stringent attention to players during the early weeks of practice, as temperatures soar into the upper 90’s.
“I think it was a very big wake up call to everybody,” said LePage.
The extreme heat is nothing new to Missourians, but the amount of time spent in that heat has decreased. Central air can be found just about everywhere, so time spent indoors is a lot more comfortable than it once was. Add that to the fact that kids are also taking part in more indoor activities—computers, cable TV and video games—and you have the potential for a problem. Kids who have spent almost an entire summer inside an air conditioned house or workplace are now being sent outside in extreme heat for two-a-day practices.
“Getting acclimated to being out doors again, particularly if you’re doing two-a-day practices and those kind of things—there is an adjustment period there,” said Missouri State High School Activities Association spokesperson Rick Kindhart. “We want to make sure our coaching staffs and school administrators are cognizant of that and the transition is done responsibly with education and safety in mind.”
Greg Nesbitt, who is the head football coach of defending Class 6 champion Columbia Hickman, says two-a-days aren’t really two-a-days for his kids. Their first-week schedule is as follows: two practices on Monday, one practice on Tuesday, two practices on Wednesday, one on Thursday, one on Friday and a scrimmage on Saturday.
He also blames air conditioning, “It’s so prevalent today from cars to everywhere kids are at that there’s certainly an acclimization period.”
LePage, who led Blair Oaks to the Class 2 title said they do two practices: one at around 3PM and another after 6PM. The first practice is just a walk-though, often without pads if it’s too hot.
“If it’s very hot we won’t even wear helmets or shoulder pads. We can kind of watch them, monitor them and make sure that they’re sweating,” he said.
And if there’s even a hint of a problem, LePage said they act at once. “We make an immediate phone call to the parent and give them the watches to watch for even if he hasn’t shown any of those symptoms prior to leaving practice. We want them to know.”