Coaches, parents can learn from player's death

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By Todd Martin

From Korey Stringer of the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 to two high school players in the Louisville area more recently, heat-related deaths have unfortunately become more frequent in the past decade.

With 15-year-old Max Gilpin of Pleasure Ridge Park’s death during preseason practice last summer, a new era has been opened.

Gilpin's coach, David Jason Stinson, has been indicted on charges of negligent homicide, which could land him in prison for up to five years.

Gilpin’s parents filed suit against Stinson, and the public has turned a closer eye to the problem of heat-related injury, or death, involved with sports.

CNN, USA TODAY, ESPN and Good Morning America, among others, have filed major reports on Gilpin's case since the indictment on Friday of Stinson.

“This case will be monumental,” SCHS football coach Todd Shipley said. “It’s just a terrible situation.”

And it's a situation that Shipley said his football team is very careful to avoid at all costs.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has strict guidelines on when teams can and can’t practice based on a heat index that is more of a true temperature that also factors in the humidity.

The KHSAA has rules starting at a heat index of 95 and going through a mandatory stop of all outdoor sports at a heat index of 104.

Though Shipley and the Rockets monitor those numbers very carefully, he says they go above and beyond the mandatory minimums.

“We have the scheduled breaks that we have to have, but we also provide water at all the stations, so kids can get a drink when ever they need one,” he said. “We have our managers filling up water bottles and making sure there is water available everywhere.”

All the coaches at SCHS are required to check the heat and humidity before practices on hot days.

“We have a hydrometer that checks the temperature and humidity for us,” Shipley said. “The athletics department got them for us, and I just clip it to my whistle, so I can check it all throughout practice.”

The kids know Shipley has it as well.

“They like to ask me throughout practice what it says,” he said. “So we are pretty much checking it constantly.”

Tom Doyle is the volunteer trainer for the football team and is also a former professional trainer. After graduating from Western Kentucky University, where he was a trainer in the athletics department, Doyle spent four years in professional baseball as a trainer.

Although Doyle doesn't attend practices, he has been at enough of them to know what goes on with the Rocket football team.

There are several factors that Doyle said players, coaches and parents should be on the look out for.

“If a player has a lack of perspiration, that can be bad,” he said. “That basically means that they don’t have anything left to sweat out. Also, fatigue can be a sign.

"Cramping is the number one sign. That shows an obvious lack of fluids. Also, post game lack of appetite should be monitored.”

Shipley also noted that he looks for any difference in a player’s behavior.

“If a guy is just acting different, he may be dehydrated or suffering from the heat,” he said. “You just have to know your players. If a guy is having trouble focusing, or just not acting like himself, he may need to sit down and get a drink.”


The main thing the spring and summer sports need to be is flexible.

The Rockets' football team has two-a-day workouts during one week each year, and coaches have be flexible with the schedule.

“A lot of times we’ll do our two-a-days at 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.,” Shipley said. “We’re usually pretty good with the 9 a.m. start, but sometimes around about 11 a.m., we may have to take our helmets and pads off or stop early. The same thing with the 8 p.m. start. We may not be able to go full out at first, but it starts to cool off.”

By constantly monitoring the heat index, coaches know when they need to change up their plan.

“This past year we had to cancel one session of the two-a-days and then delay two others,” Shipley said. “Sometimes the kids will show up at 7 p.m. or so, and we can’t start until 8:30. We just go when once it becomes bearable. We’ve had few that couldn’t handle the heat, but we got them out of the sun, got them some water and they were OK.”


Both Doyle and Shipley said the most important time for water isn’t necessarily during practice but after and before.

“It’s so important for parents and kids to get themselves ready,” Doyle said. “Parents have to help teach the kids that it’s water, water, water. It’s a crying shame that you see all these kids walking into practice or school with a McDonald’s bag and a large Coke. The kids have to be prepared.”

The caffeine and sodium in soda and fast food hampers the body’s ability to become and stay hydrated.

“Unfortunately, coaches can’t be with the kids 24/7,” Doyle said. “They don’t know what else goes on with the kid, what they’re eating and if they’re drinking enough water. They need to drink enough that they’re going to the bathroom all the time.”

A change in time

Fifteen to 20 years ago, heat-related deaths and injuries were not commonplace on athletic fields.

“As a kid playing football growing up in Florida, we didn’t hear of any heat-related deaths,” Shipley said. “There was no heat index. It was a lot different.”

Doyle said he remembers the same.

“Twenty-five years ago we got breaks, but there wasn’t water everywhere, and you didn’t want it,” he said. “Kids were outside playing all day and more acclimated to the heat. They weren’t inside in the air conditioning, if they had it.”

Said Shipley, “There is a lot more to do inside now, with video games, Facebook and computers. We just have to be careful, know our kids and make sure we set our programs with the proper breaks. We have to adjust to the kids, not make them adjust to us.”