The following is the Lawrence school district’s policy on practice in inclement weather:
Athletic practice cannot be held on days when classes have been canceled due to inclement weather.
During periods of extreme heat (heat index 105 degrees Fahrenheit), safety precautions should be reviewed and might include the following:
• Use of spray misters
• Water breaks every 15-20 minutes
• Non-use of football pads
• Reschedule practice times to coincide with cooler parts of the day
• Educate athletes and parents about the importance of hydration
• Close observation of athletes from coaches and trainers
A landmark lawsuit in Louisville, Ky., someday could have ramifications that impact Lawrence.
Monday afternoon, Pleasure Ridge Park High football coach David Jason Stinson pleaded not guilty to a charge of reckless homicide in the August 2008 death of Max Gilpin, then a sophomore on Stinson’s team who collapsed at practice and later died of heat stroke.
Gilpin’s parents, Jeff Gilpin and Michele Crockett, jointly filed the suit against the PRP coaching staff. If convicted, Stinson could face up to five years in prison. It is the first such documented litigation filed against a coach in the United States, and its outcome could be far-reaching.
“This does have the potential to be a watershed case with regard to high school athletics,” Free State High athletic director Mike Hill said. “The reality is, unfortunately, this has occurred before.”
The goal now is to prevent it from happening again.
Ironically, on the same day that Stinson was arraigned, the National Football League settled a lawsuit with the widow of Korey Stringer, a former Minnesota Viking who died of heat stroke at training camp in July of 2001.
That settlement included a clause that indicates the NFL will support Kelci Stringer’s efforts to create a heat-illness prevention program for athletes of all ages.
The reported heat index around the time of last summer’s incidents in Louisville was 94 degrees. In Lawrence, the school district’s policy regarding heat kicks in when the index reaches 105 degrees.
“I think the policy is a good one,” Hill said. “It is one that was considered by many people and there are a lot of knowledgeable people who have studied this. When I played at South Junior High for Ralph Wedd, you were lucky to get a piece of ice. That’s just the way it was. We just didn’t have the knowledge base then, but we do now.”
Although the district’s policy — which includes mandatory water breaks, rescheduling practice times and canceling practices altogether on intensely hot days — is written for “extreme heat,” the precautions begin much earlier.
“We allow water every second of the practice,” Lawrence High football coach Dirk Wedd said. “If we’re doing a drill, and a kid is near the back of the line, he can get a drink. It doesn’t prove anything by not allowing kids water or ice. That’s not a sign of toughness or a disciplined program. Kids can be as tough as they want and still drink water, I guarantee you that. The bottom line is every coach has to be aware and constantly look for the warning signals.”
It’s that awareness that appears to be at the heart of the incident in Louisville.
According to reports in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Gilpin was the second player on the PRP High team to collapse at practice on Aug. 20, 2008. Senior Antonio Calloway fell to the ground with heat exhaustion a few minutes before Gilpin.
Calloway was lucky. After a few minutes of hydration and an ice bath on the sidelines, his breathing improved. He and Gilpin both were taken to the hospital. Calloway was released after two days. Gilpin died a day later when his core body temperature reached 107 degrees.
According to the Courier-Journal, an attorney representing the family said: “This is not about a football coach. This is not about coaches. It’s about a trained adult who was in charge of the health and welfare of a child.”
Hill, a parent himself, said such concerns are at the top of the list of responsibilities for educators throughout the Lawrence school district.
“Coaches are in charge of kids, schools are in charge of kids and safety is our No. 1 priority,” Hill said. “It’s no different than parents. I’m a parent and the safety of my kids is my No. 1 priority.”
Lawrence High athletic director Ron Commons said administrators at all schools in the district make it a point to educate their coaches on the issue. Commons also said that the Kansas State High School Activities Association does a sound job of providing literature and the latest information regarding heat-related safety.
“We have a coaches meeting before we even have a parent meeting so that the coaches can not only be reminded of the policies but so they can address that with the parents, especially in the fall,” Commons said.
Both LHS and Free State have full-time trainers on staff who are in the building every day. Part of their jobs is to monitor practices on a daily basis. The schools also provide shade tents, cold tubs and spray misters for their athletes each day.
In addition, the ongoing facility upgrades at both high schools will allow for practices on hot fall days to be moved back because of the addition of lights.
At Kansas University, such precautions are left in the hands of the school’s medical staff, taking a coach’s discretion out of the equation.
“Playing and practicing is always the decision of the medical staff,” KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said. “Our kids are constantly monitored during practice and we have medical staff there all the time.”
The reason for all of these safety measures is simple and it goes beyond avoiding an incident like the one in Louisville. First and foremost, it is about the safety of the student-athletes.
“We try to stay ahead of the game so that we don’t have something come up after the fact where someone says, ‘I wish I would’ve had that,’ or ‘I wish I would’ve known about that,’” Commons said.