Area athletic teams wrestle with postponements, cancellations in extreme heat

Area athletic teams wrestle with postponements, cancellations in extreme heat
Players gather around the water tank, hydrating during a break in the varsity football practice at Howard High last Wednesday. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

With the heat index soaring into the low 100s Tuesday, many high local school athletic contests were postponed and practices canceled.

In Baltimore City, schools without air conditioning closed early with no after-school activities, including 12 high schools — City, Poly, Ben Franklin, Bluford Drew Jemison, Edmondson, Douglass, Mervo, National Academy Foundation, New Era, Patterson, Lewis and Western. They will be closed again Wednesday.


“When a school has an early dismissal — for any reason — all after-school activities are canceled,” said Anne Fullerton, a spokesperson for the Baltimore City Public Schools. “This is a matter of Board policy and regulation, not specific to heat or athletics.”

With hot temperatures forecast to continue through Thursday, some city football coaches, are getting creative with their practices.

“We talked about holding a morning practice,” Edmondson coach Corey Johnson said. “That’s the only way we can get around it.”

Johnson said he didn’t have the Red Storm practicing Tuesday morning, because he didn’t know until school dismissed at 11:30 that they wouldn’t be able to practice. With a game against Caravel of Bear, Del., scheduled to be played at Poly on Friday night at 7 p.m., he wants to make sure his team has enough practice in to play the game.

It’s still a challenge to get the team onto the field so early on a school day.

“For us to get full participation at 6:30 in the morning is difficult because of transportation and getting the kids up at that hour,” Johnson said. “And we don’t have that much time, because they have to be ready to be in class when school starts at 8:05.”

Mervo coach Patrick Nixon doesn’t plan to practice Wednesday morning, but, he said, he will on Thursday

The No. 12 Mustangs have a little more time to prepare for their next opponent — William Penn in New Castle, Del., on Saturday at 6 p.m. — but they likely need to play that game to keep their playoff hopes alive. Nixon said he might ask to move the game to Monday.

“As a 4A school we cannot afford to cancel that game. Our schedule really hurts us a lot and a nine-game schedule with one loss might knock us out [of the playoffs],” said Nixon, whose schedule doesn’t include a lot of 4A schools that would give him more points toward the playoffs.

In Baltimore County, four non-air-conditioned high schools — Dulaney, Lansdowne, Patapsco and Woodlawn — were closed Tuesday and will be closed Wednesday. Student-athletes at those schools, however, were allowed to practice after school hours.

Still, some Baltimore County schools canceled their games and practices with the heat index predicted to be as high as 103 Tuesday afternoon, said Mike Sye, coordinator of athletics for the Baltimore County Public Schools.

Two years ago, heat forced seven non-air conditioned county high schools to close for several days and athletes at those seven were not allowed to play or practice. Some teams, including five football teams, had games canceled that could not be made up.

Since then, county schools officials have changed the policy to allow games and practice as long as it doesn’t get too hot to play — a heat index of 105 degrees.

“We’ve been practicing since August and these kids have been out practicing in the heat, so it really sets us back when we can’t practice because we went through all the heat acclimatization stuff to get them acclimated,” Sye said. “We had some discussions regarding that and I think most of the principals were on board as well to allow those schools to continue to practice or play games.”


Sye said if the heat index doesn’t reach 105, school officials can still cancel practice if they feel it’s just too hot.

Like the city and the other counties in Maryland, Baltimore County follows a sliding scale for when to tone down practice as the heat rises. It calls for shorter practices, more rest and more water breaks as the heat rises. During Code Red days — 90 to 100 degrees no matter what the humidity level — outdoor practice is limited to one hour in Baltimore County. The scale can be different in each jurisdiction, but all suspend outdoor play at a 105- or 106-degree heat index.

Sye said the teams that planned to play Tuesday could not play before 6 p.m, so it would be a little cooler.

“If the heat index is 105, it’ll be a wrap,” he said.

Baltimore City’s heat index scale is similar, and the heat can be much higher on an artificial turf field. Dunbar’s football planned to practice in the gym Tuesday because it was too hot to be out on the field, coach Lawrence Smith said.

Anne Arundel County officials issued a Code Orange, meaning all games must start at 6 p.m. or later. Still of a full slate of field hockey games, only River Hill at Broadneck at 6:30 p.m. and Old Mill at Annapolis at 7:30 p.m. were set to proceed. The other schools chose to postpone.