As Kentucky Country Day’s practice was nearing the end, players took off their helmets and doused their heads in an ice bucket. During water breaks, coaches applied ice towels around players’ necks and arms.
Football conditioning can be brutal under the best of circumstances. But when temperatures rise, things get more difficult and safety concerns escalate.
The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for the Louisville area from Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening. The weather service warned that the heat index, a measurement of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored in with the actual air temperature, will range from 100 to 110 degrees.
That has put high school football coaches throughout the area on high alert.
“We go through the protocol each year. Safety is the number one thing,” KCD coach Matt Jones said. “You’re not required to have that full immersion ice bucket, but kids enjoy sticking their heads in there to cool themselves. In a day like today, we like to have that just in case.”
Jefferson County Public Schools announced that all outdoor activities from Friday through Sunday are canceled. Kentucky Country Day, however, is an independent, private school.
Still, Jones said, the school follows the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s heat regulations. The team practiced early morning to avoid the hottest parts of the day and ended Friday’s practice at 11 a.m.
“We talked about moving the times. We knew we were going to end by 11:15,” Jones said. “We knew that was when the temperature was going to bump up to mid- to high- 90s.”
Following the heat-related death of Pleasure Ridge Park football player Max Gilpin in 2008, the KHSAA made changes to the heat index regulation. If the heat index is above 104 degrees, all outside activity and inside activity, if air conditioning is unavailable, must be stopped entirely.
If the index is between 100 and 104 degrees, 10-minute mandatory water breaks are required every 30 minutes to allow for hydration. Teams should have towels with ice for cooling and allow for changes to dry T-shirts and shorts.
Football teams typically have been practicing early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the extreme heat.
“We’ve pretty much been a morning practice group in the summer for the last two years, and the only adjustment we had to make, which we saw coming, was to bump up practice where we come in a little earlier than originally planned,” St. Xavier coach Kevin Wallace said. “We’re able to get done before any heat index issues.”
At Male, the football team routinely gets training done inside when it’s too hot.
“The afternoon is when temperatures normally get dangerous about 99 and above,” Male coach Chris Wolfe said. “That’s the time we can use the gyms and those guys can work in smaller spaces and we’re able to get to work inside an air-conditioned gym. We’ve had a plan about how we can get through these days like this.”