The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 27, 2013

Schools are getting smarter about playing in the heat


The Mankato Free Press

---- — We’re used to snow days and rainouts. We’ve seen the occasional lightning delay, too.

During the winter and spring sports seasons, we have to be on the lookout for postponements due to weather.

They’re more rare in the late summer and fall when things turn fairly dry, and sports such as football go on regardless of the weather conditions.

So it seemed somewhat out of place to see so many schedule changes announced on a sunny Monday in August.

Locally, a tennis meet was moved from this afternoon to morning, a soccer game was pushed into later this evening and a cross-country meet scheduled for today in Austin was cancelled all together.

The trend is taking place throughout the state as a summer swelter pushed through the Midwest. Temperatures hit the 90s on Monday with heat indexes in the 100s. The heat wave is supposed to continue today.

According to tweets from the Minnesota State High School League, some schools Monday canceled practices and moved others indoors where the athletes could work out in air conditioning.

The Mankato North Mankato Youth Football program instructed its coaches that players are not to wear pads or helmets in practice during this week’s oppressive conditions.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of canceling a practice or a game due to hot weather would be unheard of. Certainly, many of us have heard stories about the old days of grueling two-a-day practices in brutal heat that allegedly toughened up players.

Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys” achieved almost mythological status for surviving the legendary coach’s hellish camp at Texas A&M nearly 60 years ago. Little or no water was provided for the players, many of whom quit.

Bryant’s actions were credited for turning around the fortunes of a once-struggling program. Today, they might be seen as criminal.

Thankfully, those days are long gone.

We understand that water isn’t a reward; hydration is a necessity. As is understanding the how these brutal conditions can affect the human body, especially one that’s pushing itself to physical extremes.

It was only 12 years ago that Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died in Mankato from heat stroke suffered during a day at training camp that was not unlike what we felt on Monday afternoon. That high-profile incident resulted in many changes to the way teams and athletes in all sports train in the heat.

Just look at this year’s training camp. While the Vikings got off easy in terms of hot weather, what the team does on the Blakeslee Stadium practice fields nowadays looks hardly grueling. NFL coaches, including Leslie Frazier, sometimes bemoan the limits the NFL’s latest Collective Bargaining Areement put on training camps. But it’s hard to argue that the practices are safer, smarter and more efficient. Players arrive in tip-top shape, too.

High school and youth athletes don’t have the luxury of a labor agreement with their schools, but they need protection, too.

Fortunately, Monday’s schedule changes showed that we’re on the right track.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.