NSAA provides tools for more accurate heat measurement

Wet Bulb Globe Thermometers provided to schools statewide
This is what the NSAA is doing to protect student-athletes in the summer heat.
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 10:37 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A year ago, on the opening day of high school football practice, came the shocking news that 16-year-old Omaha South junior Drake Geiger died after collapsing on the football practice field.

It was a 91-degree day, with a heat index of 105. Over the past 25 years, at least 50 high school football players have died in the U.S. from heat stroke after becoming sick on the field.

“Heat-related deaths are honestly 100% preventable.”

Ron Higdon oversees sports medicine as an assistant director for Nebraska’s high school activities governing body, NSAA. After Geiger’s death last fall, he knew they had to do more.

“You can no longer say well it doesn’t happen here,” Geiger said. “We can’t say that, I mean, it’s a tragedy.”

So the NSAA reached out to one of the country’s leaders in heat illness prevention, the Korey Stringer Institute, and realized there is a tool that has been available that makes day-to-day decisions about practice and heat much more informed. The NSAA adopted new guidelines for heat conditions based on the Wet Bulb Globe Thermometer.

Tracy Arnold of Papillion-La Vista South High School has been an athletic trainer for 30 years. The school just received its thermometer in time for the opening week of Fall practice.

”What yellow means to us (is) when they get a water break, we’re gonna give them five minutes of solid drinking water so they can rest,” Arnold said while demonstrating the settings at the high school field Wednesday. “If it gets orange, we’re gonna cut practice down to two hours or less, when it hits red, we wanna cut practice even lower, give them longer breaks, take off helmets, no shoulder pads. When it hits black, we’re done.”

The U.S. military’s actually been using wet bulb globe technology since the 1950s, but those originally cost tens of thousands of dollars. In recent years, professional sports teams and universities began using the WBGT and now that the cost is down to a few hundred dollars, the NSAA decided providing them to all schools would provide schools with a potentially life-saving tool.

”We defer to our training staff,” Papillion-La Vista South High School football coach Tim Clemenger said. “They tell us when we’re gonna go, when we can’t. It took me a little while to get our head around that, but it’s one of those events we have to respond to.”

And football isn’t the only sport that will benefit.

”For football, the turf field always intensifies (the heat), so we wanna know what its like here and its definitely not the same at the softball field or the tennis court,” Arnold said. “We can take this wherever we want to, and know what everybody’s going through at that moment, so we can make precautions like ice towels, extra water and talk to them about their practice times.”

Higdon emphasizes that the schools still have to make the right decisions. The WBGT replaces a much less specific gauge, the heat index, and provides information he thinks will make it easier to make the proper decision to alter practice or game schedules.

”You still have some, you know, daytime decisions to make when it’s that hot and when the surface of the football field, it’s down in a hole that doesn’t get anywhere and and no cloud cover, that reading is going to be fairly high,” Higdon said. “You have to make some adjustments and if you don’t, then you have to question why are we doing any of this.”

“The safety of the kids is what we’re gearing for.”

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