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Preseason heat story

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Gladstone, Aug 21, 2007.

  1. Gladstone

    Gladstone New Member

    Hey guys,
    I wanted to get some of yall's impressions on this story I wrote last week about how the heat is affecting high school football practices in Georgia. I'm not a big fan of the lede. I realize it's weak and somewhat cliche, so any help is appreciated. Thanks

    Every year, high school football players must battle the August heat as the team prepares for the upcoming season, but this season the weather has had the upper hand.
    With temperatures consistently in the triple digits throughout the country — including a high of 101 degrees Wednesday in Griffin — local high schools have had to turn down the intensity during practices and watch for their players safety.
    Because of this Griffin High School, Spalding High School and Griffin Christian High School have changed the times and locations for their preseason practices rather than beginning practice right after school with running and conditioning drills.
    Griffin head coach Steve DeVoursney said his team has started more than half of their practices stretching and walking through the play patterns inside the gym before going outside for full-contact practice.
    The same is true at Spalding. Jaguar head coach Tommy Gilstrap said the team usually does not begin to practice outside until around 5 p.m. when the temperatures start to go down.
    While summer conditioning programs have helped both teams withstand the heat, the coaches still can see the consequences the weather has on their players.
    “When you put full pads on and it’s 100 degrees, it doesn’t matter what kind of shape you’re in, it’s still going to play an effect on you as far as fatigue goes,” DeVoursney said. “We conditioned pretty good all summer for this. That’s why we do it, that’s why we push them so hard in the summer.”
    To make up for the first hour of indoor practice, teams have been staying later and doing most of their high intensity workouts as the sun begins to set. On Monday, Griffin ended practice at 8 p.m. while Spalding let its players go at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
    “We’re on a tight schedule, and we don’t like to get out as late as we are, but that’s what we’ve been dealt with right now,” Gilstrap said.
    Griffin Christian has had to combat the heat by starting its practices at 7 p.m. and finishing around 9 p.m.
    Despite the cooler temperatures at the later hours, Crusader head coach Kerry Phillips said his team still must use caution.
    “We’re just practicing at 91 (degrees) instead of 101,” he said. “It’s been hot, but they’ve given us all the effort they’ve got.”
    The change in practice schedules may help prevent a heat-related illness, but the quality of those practices has been affected by the time and location changes.
    DeVoursney said he feels his team is further behind now than it was last season mainly because of the decreased contact in practice. However, he added that many of the other coaches he has talked to feel the same way about their team, so no team has a real advantage.
    “If every team is going through this, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Everybody’s at the same level, and each team is going to be a little bit behind, especially if they’re scrimmaging this week,” he said.
    According to DeVoursney, Coweta County does not allow Newnan High School, Griffin’s opponent during Friday night’s scrimmage, to practice until 7 p.m.
    While the coaches may see a physical fall-out in their players because of the heat, they also are noticing increased mental toughness in their teams. Gilstrap said the lingering heat has made his team more prepared for the season than in previous years.
    “When it’s been this hot for this long, it just wears on you mentally, and it has made us tougher mentally,” he said. “Having to fight through this heat and not giving in to it and still keeping the kids’ safety first and foremost has made us be more mentally.”

    Wet Bulb Global Temperature
    To determine which conditions are safe enough for teams to hold practice, all Spalding County schools are required to gauge the heat with the Wet Bulb Global Temperature (WBGT).
    Created in 1956 by the United States Marine Corps to help reduce heat illnesses in new recruits, the WBGT factors ground heat, relative humidity and actual temperature into a specialized formula to create a Wet Bulb temperature. That temperature is used to decide when the weather is suitable for practices.
    When the Wet Bulb temperature is greater than 82 degrees, teams are not allowed to practice outside. A Wet Bulb temperature between 79 and 81 degrees allows for shortened practices with low intensity drills and five minute water breaks every 10 to 15 minutes of practice. Teams can hold full practices with five-minute water breaks every 15 to 20 minutes when the Wet Bulb reading is between 73 and 79 degrees, which has been the typical Wet Bulb temperature during preseason practices in past years.
    “The way the temperatures have been running, it’s either that we’re not allowed to go outside, or that we can go outside but it’s helmets only, and we have to stop every 10 minutes for a five-minute water break,” Griffin athletic trainer Christy Brown said.
    Curtis Jones, Assistant Superintendent of the Griffin-Spalding County School System, said schools have used the WBGT system for two years, but this year has been the first time practices consistently have been affected because of the weather.
    “Last year, pretty much we were OK,” Griffin athletic director Jamie Cassady said. “There were a few days we had to take some real caution, but other than that it wasn’t bad. This year, we couldn’t do anything according to (the WBGT).”
    Cassady said Wet Bulb readings are performed every hour to determine when the team can practice outside and are monitored continuously during outdoor workouts.

    Other Precautions
    In addition to implementing the WBGT system, Jones said the school system required that each team have a certified athletic trainer at practices and that coaches must be trained in CPR and heat awareness.
    Brown said her primary objective these past three weeks has been teaching the players to avoid salty snacks and carbonated drinks that make them more susceptible to dehydration and other heat-related illnesses.
    “We’re kind of putting it in their hands about watching themselves and keeping an eye on their teammates,” she said.
    Spalding athletic trainer Paul Hubbard said many of the early warning signs of dehydration are obvious and easy to catch.
    “You can always tell the ones who aren’t drinking what they’re supposed to. They start to cramp a little bit or feel little twitches here and there,” he said.
    While Brown and Hubbard do not have a certain amount of water they recommend the athletes drink, both said they advise their players to drink water throughout the day instead of right before practice.
    “We’re pretty good about making sure those kids who are at risk — overweight or kids that are out-of-shape — are staying hydrated,” Brown said.
    In addition to keeping the athletes hydrated, the trainers are also teaching the players to become acclimated to the high temperatures by spending some time outside on the weekends rather than staying inside in the air conditioning.
    So far, both teams have been successful in battling the heat. Despite temperatures reaching critical levels this preseason, all three schools reported no serious heat-related illnesses. Hubbard said a few players were affected by their asthma, but the athletes recovered after a short rest.
    Should a player become overheated during practice, both schools are equipped with cooling systems on the practice field. Before the start of the season, Griffin purchased a cooling fan that sprays cold water on players, and Spalding has a misting tent that the team uses during water breaks to cool its players.
    If the trainers feel a player is becoming over-heated, they will rest him on the sidelines or take him inside the gym to cool down with ice if the case is severe.
    “(Hubbard) will tell me when he thinks we need to back off or we need to do something else, and I listen to him,” Gilstrap said.

    Other Sports Affected Too
    The added weight of helmets and pads puts football players at a higher risk for heat-related illnesses than other athletes, but other sports have also had to take precautions due to the high temperatures.
    Spalding’s cross country team as well as Spalding and Griffin’s softball teams have each started their afternoon practices almost an hour later than last season.
    Spalding softball head coach Matt East said his team has reversed its previous practice schedule to conduct the more energy-consuming drills during the cooler hours. The team begins each practice working on its batting rather than running and sprinting as it did last season.
    Like the football teams, the softball teams are also staying in practice longer. East said his team finishes with practice around 6:30 p.m., almost an hour later than the 5:45 p.m. time he estimated they finished at last year.
    “We have to do less, but we are staying out a little bit later and doing things at different hours of the day to make sure we can get things accomplished,” he said.
    Griffin starts its practices around 5 p.m. and does not finish until 7:30 p.m. on most nights.
    “You want to push them, but with this heat you don’t want to overdo it,” Griffin softball head coach Rusty Hudson said.
    Both Hudson and East said their players have gotten used to the heat in a short period of time, and most of the girls do not show any effects from the weather.
    “Some girls have been sluggish, but a good thing for us is this will be our third week in it, so for a lot of them they can get acclimated to the heat,” East said. “They’re starting to get used to it, but we’re still taking those precautions.”
    Those precautions will continue until the afternoon temperatures begin to drop, which most coaches estimate should be in the next few weeks.
    “We’re going to take care of our athletes,” Jones said. “Parents trust us with their children and we accept that trust and everything associated with it.”
  2. DGRollins

    DGRollins Member

    It’s too long.

    And this is a story begging for an anecdotal lead.

    I’ll have a closer look tonight….
  3. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest


    Thanks for posting your work for us to share.

    I'll echo DG's first impression, and say that it seems long to me, and really needs to lede with a scene of some local kids swooning in the heat at the top.

    I assume, though, that it was written at this length because somebody wanted a global piece on the heat and health risks to young athletes. As a comprehensive primer for the readership, it's a sound service piece.

    As a writerly exercise, if you were ever inclined to revisit the piece, I'd suggest you challenge yourself to cut it in half without losing any of the information it contains.

    Again, welcome to the Workshop, and thanks for posting.
  4. Mystery_Meat

    Mystery_Meat Guest

    Seconded. Dealing with the heat screams for proof of it up top. A game that gets delays for water breaks. A practice that shifts from morning to night or vice versa to avoid the worst of it. A kid who staggers off the field and drinks his weight in water. Even if it's not terribly original, it brings into focus quickly for the readers the impact of the heat on football players, whereas it takes you a little longer to set the table.
  5. Gladstone

    Gladstone New Member

    Thanks for the comments, guys. What yall are saying is pretty much the same response I've gotten from others in the newsroom, but I appreciate you guys looking it over for me.
  6. Mystery_Meat

    Mystery_Meat Guest

    The Wet Bulb Global Temperature part of the story can run as a breakout box, accompanied by a small photo of one in action. That would reduce the story size (1,664 words, or nearly 50 inches at current count), add a graphic element and not cut back on the information provided. You could probably prune a couple of the quotes, as well. But it's pretty well-reported, so kudos for that.
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