By Anthony Rhoads
It is a football coach's worst nightmare.
A player collapses on the practice field and dies from heat stroke.
Fortunately, heat-related deaths in high school football are rare but it's a subject that coaches think about and do everything in their power to prevent.
In today's practice environment, coaches preach about the need to drink water. The days of practicing for hours without water breaks are long gone and the flawed philosophy of ?water makes you weak' has faded away.
"You have to get the ?old-school' out of you," Henry County head coach Mike Rozier said. "Times have changed and you have to make sure you drink as much water as possible."
Even though heat-related deaths have been rare in the Southern Crescent, deaths throughout the nation have been on the rise in the last several years.
One of highest profile cases was two years ago, Minnesota Vikings' lineman Korey Stringer died from a heat stroke. According to The Associated Press, there have been 20 heat-related football deaths since 1995 and there were 13 from 1990-94.
In 1965, Forest Park School sophomore David Tondee died of heat-related causes after a spring football practice. He is the only known player in Clayton County to die from a heat-related illness.
"That would be devastating to us at Lovejoy," Hughes said. "We love these kids and they're like family to us. We love them like they are our own."
Henry County head coach Mike Rozier not only has the perspective of a coach but as a father. His son Michael, is the starting quarterback for the Warhawks.
"As a coach, I don't want anything to happen to someone else's kid," Rozier said. "As a father, I don't want anything to happen to Michael but sometimes they don't want to listen to you. Kids don't want to listen; they think that nothing will happen to them."
For Rozier, it's not just about making his players aware but he meets with parents to tell them to make their kids take in as much water as possible before practice.
"The key is taking in as many fluids as possible before hand," Rozier said. "It's too late when it happens out there on the field."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine, drinking plenty of water is the No. 1 way to prevent heat-related illnesses.
"We have water stations available to the players all during practices and we have squirt bottles for them throughout practice," Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. "We want them to take in as much water as they can. We want to work as hard as we can but we keep an eye on them and make sure nothing happens to them."
Lovejoy is currently at football camp this week at Andrew College in Cuthbert. Hughes said the team has had to deal with kids occasionally getting sick at camp from heat exhaustion and you just have to be sensible.
"The whole thing is you have to be alert and for the kids to be aware," Hughes said. "It's so important to hydrate."
Another key to preventing heat-related illness to pay attention to the temperature and humidity. Most schools take temperature and humidity readings and if it's too hot and humid, they don't practice.
"We try to schedule our practices out of the hottest and most humid times of the day," Eagle's Landing Christian Academy head coach Tim Luke said. "The most important thing is water. It's impossible to give them too much water. We take lots of water breaks."
Off-season conditioning and nutrition also plays a role in preventing illnesses.
"You've got to do it; you've got to eat right and you've got to stay active," Luke said. "You can't just come to football practice after not doing anything during the summer. You have to show up for summer workouts but there's nothing like football conditioning and nothing like putting on the pads and going to work."
Another precaution local coaches take is that they weigh their players before and after each practice. If they lose too much weight during practice, they are not allowed to get back on the field.