Sixteen years ago this month, Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer became the first NFL football player to die of heatstroke.
The 27-year-old, 335-pound Pro Bowler had practiced in pads for 2½ hours in 90-plus degree heat on the second day of training camp in Mankato, Minnesota. When he arrived at the hospital, his temperature was 108 degrees.
Ever since that fateful August day in 2001, coaches, trainers and team doctors from across the country have increased precautions against heat-related illness for football players and other athletes. From having their players drink more water to taking extra breaks to practicing during cooler periods of the day, they can’t be too careful.
Dr. Cary Guse worked for the Vikings in the aftermath of the Stringer tragedy. He was assistant team physician in 2003 and 2004 and said the Vikings were adamant that their athletes weighed in before and after practice. Following practice, they had to stay at the team complex and after drink until they were at the same weight as they were before practice.
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Guse now is the team doctor for Columbus East, Columbus North and Brown County. He tells the athletes two major things:
If you’re thirsty, it’s already too late. You’re already affecting performance, and you’re going to struggle if you’re thirsty.
Your urine should be clear. It should not be yellow.
“I think the biggest thing is to replace what you have,” Guse said. “Even as low as 2 to 3 percent less hydration can make a difference, and 5 percent can affect your ability to think and process. Small amounts of hydration can have severe effects.”
Teams urge fluid intake
Guse remembers one play in an East-North football game several years ago when six or seven players were down on the field at the same time with heat cramps.
Since then, East coach Bob Gaddis and North coach Tim Bless have gone to great lengths to ensure their players stay hydrated. Both coaches frequently remind their teams during their post-practice speeches to drink plenty of water.
“I think coach Gaddis and Bless have done a great job with hydration and making people understand that hydration begins at 8 a.m. or even the night before,” Guse said. “So they’ve done a great job at minimizing that risk.”
Gaddis tells his players to begin extra hydrating three days before a game. He and his staff talk to players not only about that, but also eating correctly and getting the proper amount of sleep each night.
Gaddis said his players do a good job of following his and the trainers’ advice on staying hydrated.
“We hydrate all practice,” Gaddis said. “Our rule is, if they want to go get a drink during practice, they go get a drink. We take numerous water breaks.”
Bless said his players also have the opportunity to drink water at any point in practice. He has two scheduled five-minute breaks where there is no activity, other than a water break.
But Bless also said if a player is at the end of the line in a drill, and there’s a water bottle nearby, of if they’ve been subbed out on the field, they can re-hydrate.
“The main thing is just intelligence on their own, post-practice recovery and daily nutrition, making sure that they’re keeping up with their hydration levels, and that’s something that our training staff talks to them about pretty much on a daily basis,” Bless said. “You’ll see pretty much all of our kids, if you would happen upon them during the school day, they’ll have a water bottle with them. They’re hydrating during the school day and obviously during their meals.”
Guse said boys tend to sweat more than girls, and therefore, lose more fluids.
Boys, he said, lose more sodium and potassium when they sweat. Those essentials can be replaced by drinking Gatorade or Powerade.
On the other hand, energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster Energy and others aren’t recommended.
“They probably do provide energy,” Guse said. “The majority of those have a high level of caffeine, and that acts as a diuretic, which can increase fluid loss, and that can be an issue.”
Meanwhile, Steve Souder, who has been a trainer at North for more than 30 years, has another idea to prevent cramping and dehydration.
Souder recommends Pedialyte, which helps replace electrolytes. Pedialyte often is given to infants and to those battling the flu.
“I think it does a better job,” Souder said. “It doesn’t have as much sugar as Powerade and Gatorade. Last year or the year before, we had a problem with the soccer team. The boys were cramping real bad, so I had them start taking Pedialyte, plus electrolyte tablets. After that, they had no cramping problem in the calves.”
All seven area high school football teams open the regular season on Friday. Here is the schedule:
Columbus East at Bloomington North, 7 p.m.
Columbus North at Franklin, 7 p.m.
Batesville at Jennings County, 7 p.m.
Brown County at Edinburgh, 7 p.m.
South Decatur at North Decatur, 7 p.m.
Indianapolis Tindley at Trinity Lutheran, 7 p.m.