When a pudgy, 245-pound freshman lineman began showing the early signs of heat illness - dizziness and a flushed face - scarcely one hour into yesterday's football practice, Wilde Lake assistant coach Mike Harrison knew what to do.
"I put my hand on him and knew he had a fever - didn't need to take an actual reading because I knew what symptoms to look for," said Harrison of the player, who is 14. "We brought him inside, evaluated his body temperature, put a fan on him, put ice on the back of his neck and re-hydrated him until his body temperature came down. We checked his pulse and his pupils to make sure that he was stabilized."
Wilde Lake's was among many public school football teams that began twice-daily practices yesterday, when the temperature rose above 90 degrees. It also was a school with coaches and trainers taking precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses.
Wilde Lake trainer Alisa McDonald, who could not attend the Wildecats' first of two practices because of an appointment, said Harrison and members of the Wildecats' staff "called me and told me what was going on.
"They knew what to do, because they're required to take a care and prevention class, which includes first aid and stages of heat illness, its symptoms and prevention covered in the class," said McDonald, 29. She lists morning and late practices (called two-a-days), pre- and post-practice weigh-ins and water-loss checks, as well as unlimited water breaks as possible preventive measures.
The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury, based at the University of North Carolina, has studied football injuries since 1931. According to the national center, only five heat-stroke related deaths occurred in football from 1931 to 1959.
But from 1960 to 2002, there were 101 heat-related deaths. Of the 19 heat-related fatalities from 1995 to 2001, 15 were high school football players. Seventeen deaths occurred in August, when teams typically begin preseason workouts.
"I remember feeling so horrible, groggy and tired when I was a 330-pound freshman that I threw up during one practice," said St. Paul's Chris Ilardo, now a 6-foot-4, 280-pound junior, sweat dripping from under his hair and down his face near the end of practice.
"It's really hot out here today, and you sweat a lot, but I'm more used to the heat because I've taken a bunch of water breaks," Ilardo said. "I must have [drunk] a couple of gallons of water today."
Two years ago, Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer died from heat-related causes. Locally, in 1998, freshman Daniel Bell, 13, of St. John's College High School in Washington died.