With the summer months and temperatures upon us, special care must be taken to ensure that athletes practicing and working out in hot, humid conditions properly hydrate. The Southwestern Conference (SWC), a high school conference in the St. Louis Metro East area with athletics and activities in the IHSA Illinois High School Association, uses the following policy to determine how to handle situations when the heat index rises to potentially unsafe levels. This policy will be used to advise on all extracurricular activities within the SWC.
This policy uses a progressive system of recommendations, warnings and limitations that increase as the heat index rises. The amount of limitations and recommendations for the heat index values, hydration amounts and overall safety for the student-athletes involved in all extracurricular activities are taken from other state high school associations, National Federation of State High School Associations standards and the NATA. Additionally this policy was reviewed and approved by the SWC attorney.
Heat index is an index that combines air temperature and relative humidity in an attempt to determine the human-perceived equivalent temperature — "how hot it feels."
WHITE ZONE UNDER 95 Heat Index
Provide ample amounts of water for all athletes and make sure it is readily available.
BLUE ZONE BETWEEN 95 – 99 Heat Index
Provide ample amounts of water for all athletes and make sure that it is readily available. Allow athletes to consume as much water as desired. Re-check the temperature and humidity every 30 – 45 minutes or as needed to make decisions on games or practices. Have cool down methods available for athletes as needed. Monitor athletes carefully for signs of Heat Illness. Water breaks at a minimum every 20 – 30 minutes.
YELLOW ZONE BETWEEN 100 – 104 Heat Index
Games - When the heat index is between 100 and 104, administrators, coaches, Athletic Trainers and officials will work together to allow additional breaks for water and cooling during game play as needed.
Practices –If possible, consider changing practice times to allow for a safer level of play. If practice times can not be altered, then non-necessary practice equipment (i.e. shoulder pads, helmets, etc.) should be removed when not needed for safety. Also, consider moving outdoor practices inside if possible. Water breaks should occur at a minimum every 15-20 minutes. White and Blue zones guidelines apply.
RED ZONE GREATER THAN 105 + Heat Index
When the heat index is at or above 105, all outdoor games and practices should be postponed or suspended until the HI has dropped to an acceptable level for return. The same considerations should be made for indoor activities when A/C is not available.
TESTING METHODS / PROCEDURES
There are a few different testing methods available for determining when it’s "too hot." There are a multitude of options, so budget should not be a limiting factor in whether you can have a policy in place or not. Each tool has its benefits, but finding one that works best for your situation is important.
- Digital Sling Psychrometer
- Hand-held device used to take temperature and humidity readings on the playing surface or a comparable location.
- Use Online or Web-Based Resources
- Oregon High School Athletic Association http://www.osaa.org/heatindex/
- This allows you to type in your zip code and check the exact HI for that time and specific recommendations for practices and games.
- Weather.com or other online websites
- It also allows you to see a timeline and predictions for the HI at your specific zip code.
Why did we implement this policy?
The purpose of Heat Index policy is to protect our student athletes from the potential for heat illnesses, but developing one unified policy would do this and much more. This policy would allow all eight high schools who make up the SWC to have one unified policy that all eight school administrators and athletic directors voted unanimously on. This would allow the SWC high schools to have the same policy for cancelling or changing game times / practices as needed, an increased level of protection from liability situations since all eight area schools have the same policy (previously there was six different policies in place out of the eight area schools).
Common Questions / Issues
Does this policy apply to all sports, i.e. golf?
– Yes, we applied this policy to all extracurricular activities on the campuses at the eight area high schools in the SWC. Football, tennis, band, golf… They all follow the same policy so that we don’t set ourselves up to be liable for making different recommendations based on the perceived toughness of any given sport.
Does this policy apply to all playing surfaces?
Yes, this policy was adopted for all playing surfaces whether it be turf on a football or baseball field, grass or tennis courts. The Heat Index values remain the same.
What about when you are the away or traveling team?
This policy is in place for the SWC schools whether or not we are the home or away team. Each school talks to the teams on their schedule and lets them know ‘our’ policy and tries to work with and accommodate the home team’s respective policy.
Exception- For post-season events we follow the IHSA policy and will not follow the SWC guidelines. We leave that decision up to the IHSA and how they want to handle the specific event(s) in question.
Negative Feedback – Because the SWC instituted our policy we have forced area high schools to follow our policy during certain games or events because the SWC schools refuse to travel to away events when the potential heat index will be over 105. Also, parents / fans become upset when games or events are cancelled or postponed because of the 105 heat index value.
Positive Feedback – Taking a unified stand puts the safety of our student athletes at the utmost importance in the SWC and provides a stepping off point for our area schools and conference to develop and work on programs together to improve the safety and well-being of our student-athletes.
Aaron Kremmel, MS, ATC, LAT, CSCS
Belleville East High School - Athletic Trainer