Roofers. Firefighters. Highway construction crews. Some folks have it especially tough in this Texas heat, and that includes athletes and musicians at Lake Highlands High School.
Members of the Wildcat marching band, drill team and football squad began returning for summer workouts today as temperatures are projected to exceed the century mark all week. Dallas is experiencing a bona fide heat wave, hitting a record of 109 Wednesday and setting off frequent excessive heat warnings by the National Weather Service. Officials at LHHS and Richardson ISD say they’re working hard to keep kids safe under cloudless skies.
Jessica Nelson leads the team of athletic trainers at LHHS, including ten dedicated student athletic trainers (SATs) educated to remain hypervigilant for signs of heat stress. The trainers arrive at 6:30 a.m. – one full hour before athletes show up – to mix the Gatorade and set out fruit and granola bars. They fill the cold tub with ice and water in case of heat emergency and set up tents to provide shade for breaks. By the time practice begins at 8:30, the trainers have readied 3 continuous-flow water cows (rolling jugs with spouts) for unlimited access to water and prepped ice towels for rapid cooling. After 2 hours, athletes return to the air-conditioned locker room for drinks and snacks, then head back outside for another hour of drills. The indoor multi-purpose activity center (MAC), unair-conditioned but cooler inside with shade and fans, is available if needed.
“All athletes are encouraged to participate in summer workouts so they are acclimated to the heat and their bodies can more effectively cope with the stresses of heat and exercise when their season begins,” Nelson explains. Freshman football, tennis and cross country don’t officially start back until Aug. 1, but the weight room and MAC have been open during the summer for workouts led by strength and conditioning coach Judd Smith.
Coaches, trainers and band directors follow strict UIL guidelines for working out in the heat, which include limiting the number and time of practices, monitoring weather conditions and keeping a close eye on the wellness of students. They advise students to pre-hydrate, and they watch for signs of distress such as sunburn, cramps, exhaustion and heat stroke.
Nelson uses a Kestrel Meter to monitor practice fields for Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), which accounts for temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover. The measure, which she calls “the gold standard of environmental monitoring,” helps her determine when additional cooling breaks are needed or when football players should work out without pads or conditioning drills.
“Heat in Texas is inevitable. Prevention is the key to staying safe,” says Nelson, who partners with coaches as they go over the UIL Safety Training Program with student athletes each year. Proper hydration, adequate diet, signs and symptoms of stress, recovery after workout, safe use of supplements and other topics are covered before the season begins.
“I like to stress that the athletes should always hydrate before, during and after workouts. Water just during practice isn’t enough,” she says. “They should drink at least 16 ounces two hours before a workout, and 8 ounces fifteen minutes before. To check for hydration, they should monitor their urine. If it looks like lemonade, they are hydrated. If it looks like orange juice or tea, they are dehydrated.”
Coaches sometimes have a tough job motivating students to give their best effort under difficult conditions, but Nelson says Lonnie Jordan, beginning his eighth year as head coach and athletic coordinator, is “very receptive” to her recommendations when it comes to guarding the health of his athletes.
“The days of restricting water and giving salt tablets are long gone,” Nelson says. “Now, coaches and athletes understand that one of the many roles of the athletic trainer is to prevent injuries and keep them safe. They understand that students will not perform well if they are dehydrated.”
Nelson says watching the weather forecast and monitoring one’s body isn’t just good advice for students. Wildcat parents and community members who exercise in the heat can adopt the same precautions she uses.
“One easy thing we do to reduce the risk of heat illness is to limit the amount of time we are outside. We do all pre-workout things inside like meetings, walk throughs, stretching and conditioning. We don’t have practices in the heat of the day. Try to workout early in the morning or in the evening. Also, listen to your body and know the warning signs of heat illness. If you don’t feel well, stop and go inside to cool off.”
Amateur athletes would be wise to work out with a buddy and watch for muscle cramping, nausea, fainting, weakness, vomiting, dizziness, pale skin, heavy sweating, decreased urine output, headache, decreased blood pressure and decreased coordination. If you experience minor symptoms like fatigue and excess sweating, move to the shade and drink water. If you vomit, have muscle cramps or have multiple signs of heat stress, use ice towels or air conditioning to cool off quickly. If your condition worsens, call 911.
The Wildcats scrimmage Coppell in Coppell Aug. 18. Their first game with full support by the band, drill team, cheer squad and Bell Boys is at Mesquite Memorial Aug. 26, and their first home game is against Flower Mound Sept. 2. Kick off is at 7. Go Cats.