H.S. Sports: Heat sends teams to sidelines

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LEWISTON — High school athletes are used to sweating this time of year, but not coaches and athletic directors.

On Wednesday, they were all sweating.

With temperatures soaring into the mid-90s on the first day of September, schools across the state canceled games and practices or scrambled to reschedule them for later in the afternoon to protect athletes from the heat.

Mountain Valley and St. Dom’s agreed to push their season-opening field hockey game in Auburn back 90 minutes to let things cool off a little. Both teams took precautions for the game and officials called a timeout midway through each half for water breaks, yet players still felt the affects of the sweltering heat.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this hot during a game. It was dreadful,” Mountain Valley goalie Emily Gallant said after the Falcons defeated St. Dom’s 3-0. “Warming up, I just had to stop because it was so hot. There was sweat everywhere, I was having a hard time seeing. It was unbearable.”

To temper the effects of the heat, Mountain valley traveled to the game with a tub of ice water that wasn’t for drinking, but rather to soak a handful of rags.

“We did anything we could think of to stay cool,” Mountain Valley coach Melissa Forbes said. “We tried to turn it into a passing game so no one had to run too far with it all at once.”

Lewiston AD Jason Fuller canceled all practices as well as a freshman soccer game with Camden Hills. That was after receiving air quality warning from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and consulting with the Korey Stringer Institute, a part of the University of Connecticut’s kinesiology department named after former Minnesota Vikings’ offensive lineman Korey Stringer who died of  exertional heat stroke during training camp in 2001.

Fuller also measured the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, a formulated composite temperature used by the military to estimate the effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed  and solar radiation on humans and determine appropriate exposure levels to high temperatures.

“We did that and we got a calculation of just about the max,” Fuller said. “After looking at everything, we decided that canceling everything was the best way to go for right now.”

The temperature in Lewiston at 4 p.m., when most practices and games would be in full swing, was 91 degrees. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Wednesday that said temperatures and moderate humidity would help raise the heat index to near 100 degrees.

Edward Little AD Dan Deshaies said he followed National Athletic Association Trainer guidelines and sent some athletes home after school while coaches changed practice times and routines for others.

“With football, we’re not going with pads, just shorts and t-shirt,” he said. “We canceled our sub-varsity practices. Varsity is going to practice but we’re cutting back the practice time and the coaches are making sure (the athletes) hydrate and stuff like that. We’ve made a lot of adaptions today so as not to put the kids in jeopardy.”

Heat risks

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury at the University of North Carolina, heat stroke fatalities in America increased from eight between 1975 and 1979 to 18 from 2005-09.

Case reports from the Korey Stringer Institute from 2009 included two 16-year-old football players who collapsed during July practices and died due to heat stroke. A male high school cross country runner collapsed during a race held in a 98-degree index and avoided death because he collapsed in the yard of a nurse, who iced him down.

Wednesday was Opening Day for a number of conferences and sports. Locally, the Mountain Valley Conference field hockey and Western Maine Conference golf seasons teed off.

More conferences and sports are slated to get under way on Thursday, but the forecast called for temperatures to once again reach 90 degrees. School officials weren’t expecting conditions to improve much.

“We’ll monitor it,” Fuller said. “Obviously, I don’t want my athletes to lose two days of practice. We’re probably going to end up doing something under the lights, when the temperature drops.”

Jay football coach Mark Bonnevie started putting his players through a light practice with frequent breaks Wednesday afternoon. When he got word in the middle of practice that Sacopee Valley, the Tigers’ opponent for Friday night’s season-opener, was forfeiting because it didn’t have enough players (story, C1), he called a halt to the workout.

“Tomorrow, because we don’t have a game, we’ll definitely change it up,” Bonnevie said. “We’ll probably just go uppers and do like we did today — take it easy, take a lot of water breaks, go sit in the shade for awhile. I can’t remember anything like this this close to the season.”

Guidelines  for coaches

The Maine Principals’ Association does not have rules regarding extreme weather conditions, but did hear from school officials with questions on Wednesday. The MPA provides coaches with a handbook that includes a section on cold illness, heat illness and hydration with guidelines on how to prevent and manage weather-related health issues.

“I believe that schools today are much more cognizant of these types of issues involving heat and the dangers that are associated with it,” MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham said. “I can’t remember widespread cancellations like this (due to heat).”

Temperatures are expected to drop considerably starting Friday, but that may not stop the weather-related problems for Maine high school athletics.

Hurricane Earl could disrupt this weekend’s slate, including the kick-off of football season. At least one football game, Gorham at Cheverus, has been moved up from Saturday to Friday afternoon due to the threat of the storm, Burnham said.

Staff writer Justin Pelletier contributed to this story

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