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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Heat-related Deaths In School Football Players Spikes in '06

Every year, Fred Mueller compiles a sports list, but unlike popular pre-season picks or a glamorous hot-recruit sheet, nobody envies him this task. Some years the list is longer than others, but, Mueller said, there’s no reason any kid should be on it.

It’s a list of boys who died playing or practicing football, kids whose body temperatures rose so high and so fast under the summer sun that their brains couldn’t keep up, couldn’t regulate their cores, and the boys died.

“When something is preventable ...,” Mueller says, shaking his head. “Those kids could be alive today.”

Five young athletes, from 11 to 17 years old, died of heat stroke in 2006. The trend was declining. The last time there were more than five was 1972, when there were seven. In five of the past 16 years there were none. But, Mueller said, there have been 31 since 1995, and all of them could have been avoided.

Seven other players died last year of “heart-related” deaths that might or night not have been related to heat or exertion. “And we don’t know the number of kids who had heat exhaustion,” Mueller said.

With summer practice about to swing into high gear, Mueller says it’s time to remember these kids, and to keep in mind how heat-related deaths can be prevented:

-- Require each athlete to have a physical and know if an athlete has a history of heat-related illness; these kids are more susceptible to heat stroke. Overweight players are also at higher risk.

-- Acclimatize players to the heat slowly; North Carolina mandates that the first three days of practice be done without uniforms.

-- Alter practice schedules to avoid long workouts in high-humidity.

-- Provide cold water before, during and after practice in unlimited quantities.

-- Provide shaded rest areas with circulating air; remove helmets and loosen or remove jerseys; some schools have plastic outdoor pools filled with ice for cool-downs after practice.

-- Know the symptoms of heat illness: nausea, incoherence, fatigue, weakness, vomiting, muscle cramps, weak rapid pulse, visual disturbance. Contrary to popular belief, heat stroke victims may sweat profusely.

-- Have an emergency plan in place; parents should inquire about emergency plans for their kids’ teams.

Heat-related deaths are compiled as part of the Annual Survey of Football Injuries, research that began in 1931; Mueller took the reins in 1980. The survey tracks major injuries and deaths in 1.8 million football players from sandlot (organized, non-school affiliated teams), middle school, high school, college and professional teams.

There were a total of 20 deaths in 2006; two sandlot players, three in college, 13 middle and high schoolers. Only one death was directly related to the game; a 17-year-old high school player who received a spinal cord injury when tackled in a practice drill.

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