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Naples Daily News (Florida)

 

Almost exactly one year since Riverdale High football player Zach Polsenberg died from heatstroke, the Lee County School District said all 14 of its high schools now have the one safety item that experts say would have saved his life: a tub.

The tubs — used to immerse in ice water anyone who is suffering exertional heatstroke — and special thermometers that calculate overall heat stress were at the center of a debate recently at the state level over heat safety in high school sports.

The district said it also will buy the thermometers, which measure what is known as wet-bulb globe temperature, for all 14 public high schools in the county, although it has not determined what policies will govern their use.

In Collier County, all nine of the district's public high schools have ice tubs, even though they aren't mandated, said district spokesman Greg Turchetta. Coaches in the area have determined they are necessary to keep players safe, Turchetta said.

The Florida High School Athletics Association voted in early June only to "strongly recommend" schools have the items. That stopped short of advice from its own sports medicine council to mandate the items. It also drew public condemnation from state and national heat safety experts.

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has agreed to look into the matter after FHSAA indicated it might mandate the items only if required to do so by state law.

"While this is also only strongly recommended by the FHSAA, we feel it is important to keep our student athletes safe," said Lee County school spokesman Rob Spicker.

Polsenberg was stricken with heatstroke at the end of a Riverdale team workout June 29, 2017. He was taken off life support 11 days later at a hospital in Miami. He was 16.

Considering all ages, an average of three football players a year die from exertional heatstroke, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research. The majority of those athletes are in high school, and 90 percent of the incidents take place at practice.

Witness statements in a police investigation indicate more than 15 minutes might have elapsed between the time Polsenberg fell into distress and 911 was called.

Coaches and players poured cold water on him during that period, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office investigation. But an ice tub, if available, was not used.

Experts say heatstroke is 100 percent survivable if recognized and properly treated within 10 minutes.

Attorneys for Polsenberg's family sent a notice of intent to sue the school district, the Lee County School Board and Riverdale High in letters dated March 7 and April 5.

The 90-day period legally required to send a notice of intent before filing a lawsuit against a government agency is nearing its end.

The notice alleges negligent supervision by Riverdale coaches and staff and "liability for the incident and post-incident care, or lack thereof."

Spicker said 12 of the 14 high schools in the Lee County School District's domain had ice tubs at the time he surveyed them in late April. The two other schools added tubs in early May, he said.

Spicker said he could not comment on whether Riverdale had a tub at the time of last year's incident because of the potential lawsuit. It is not known how many high schools had tubs last year.

The tubs and thermometers are less an issue of cost than training, awareness and use. The tubs cost as little as $150, depending on their sizes, and the thermometers range from $150 to $300.

Ice baths have long been routine in athletics for recovery after training.

A survey conducted in May by the Athletic Trainers Association of Florida — at the request of FHSAA after it postponed in April its decision on whether to mandate tubs and globe thermometers — found that 92 percent of 172 schools responding had tubs.

Polsenberg's mother, Laurie Giordano, told The News-Press that East Lee County and Bonita Springs were the two high schools to add tubs in early May.

She said East Lee purchased its own tub, and a foundation created in her son's name to raise money and awareness for heat safety donated a tub to Bonita Springs.

Giordano said it was "great" that the district planned to buy globe thermometers, which measure temperature, humidity and radiant heat to assess heat stress on a body.

But she asked what policies will govern their use as part of a "comprehensive heat illness policy," which can include acclimatization periods, work-to-rest ratios, mandates for shaded, cooling zones and coverage for summer months, which are almost entirely unregulated by FHSAA.

The Lee School District has said it follows the heat safety policies of FHSAA, which did mandate heat safety training courses for coaches and athletes beginning in July.

Having such a policy, Giordano said, "will ensure all schools are following the same guidelines for preventing heat illness and are not left up to coaches and staff to determine best practices for use of this lifesaving equipment."

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July 6, 2018
 
 
 

 

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