While the gridiron is hot: N.J. rules stress heat safety for student athletes

As high school football teams in New Jersey officially kick off their practice sessions Monday, new guidelines aim to prevent players from suffering heat-related illness.

To help players get through strenuous workouts during the hot days of August, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has issued heat safety guidelines.

On the field outside Lawrence High School Friday, head football coach Rob Radice was encouraging members of his team to be prepared for the season.

While Radice welcomes the recommendations to limit the length of practices and ensure players are properly hydrated, he said weight-training and running exercises they’ve been doing since June has his team ready to go in the warm weather.

Water breaks will help prevent problems on the field, he said.

“It’s not old school where you only drink when a coach tells you. We tell them you can drink anytime you want, as much as you want, whenever you want, and we make sure they’re pre-hydrating and post-hydrating after practice,” Radice said. “When we had a hot spell a couple years, we even brought a scale and weighed them before and after practice. So, depending on how hot it gets, that’s always an option we could use.”

Coaches must be vigilant

Lawrence Township Athletic Director Ken Mason said players aren’t likely to ask to be pulled out of practice because they’re fighting to get a spot on the team. So, he said, the trainer and coaches keep close watch.

“The first sign of anything, we get them in. We get them cooled down. We put them in the air conditioning, get some cold towels around, alert the nurse, alert their parents,” he said. “If it’s a real problem and they’re not responding, obviously we’ll go to 911 and get an ambulance involved.”

Steven Timko, executive director of the Interscholastic Athletic Association, said there have been some heat-related problems for high school football players in New Jersey in previous years. He said he hopes the new guidelines will help.

The health and safety of student athletes are the organization’s main concerns, he said. 

Do you think your high school, or the high school your children attend, needs to do more to keep student athletes safe in the heat? What does your high school do to make sure athletes are properly hydrating? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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