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Naples Daily News (Florida)


Florida, which sees heatstroke kill more high school athletes than any other state, soon will have stronger heat safety education requirements for coaches and students.

That was decided Monday by the Florida High School Athletic Association, which also postponed deciding whether to require schools have cold water tubs in cases of heatstroke after being warned about potential liability by its lawyer.

The developments were deemed progress by heat safety advocates, who had brought unwanted scrutiny to the state agency for potentially falling short of common safety protocols.

"It has been a productive day," said Robert Sefcik, executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program and a member of the FHSAA's 15-person Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

"I'm not discouraged by the (postponement). I thought that was the most prudent thing they could do. We need to answer a few more questions for them so they can make a better-informed decision."

In the same way that concussion safety and awareness videos are already mandated for coaches and athletes, the FHSAA board of directors voted to make heat safety training videos mandatory for those groups starting in July.

FHSAA staff also was asked to work quickly to get updated information and heat safety consent forms to school officials so they could begin disseminating them before next fall.

Doing so would provide at least some upgrade to heat safety for the summer, a mostly unregulated time which the FHSAA did not address with any policy updates Monday despite the sports medicine advisory committee's prior recommendation to do so.

"It definitely is going to help," said Laurie Martin Giordano, the mother of late Riverdale High School football player Zach Martin-Polsenberg, who died of heatstroke after a team workout last summer.

"I'm not discounting how much (education) will help heading into spring and summer practices. I know that there will be coaches who do follow recommendations on that video if they're not required to. But there's some places that they just don't until it's a requirement.

"The fact that they're still not addressing summer workouts is egregious in my opinion. You can't have all these guidelines when our students are practicing on our campuses with our school employees and say, 'Well, we're not going to regulate that.'"

Other than prohibiting the use of football helmets and pads during the summer, the FHSAA leaves regulation of all summer sports up to individual districts and schools.

"Passing the buck doesn't cut it," Martin Giordano said. "It's just another push for the June meeting."

Florida has seen more high school athletes die from what is called exertional heatstroke than any other state since 2010, according to the Korey Stringer Institute.

In football alone, exertional heatstroke killed an average of three athletes a year of all ages from 1995-2015, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. That is despite medical professionals calling it "100 percent survivable" if responded to within 5-10 minutes.

In January, the FHSAA sports medicine advisory committee unanimously recommended that the board require schools have ice tubs and wet-bulb globe thermometers - which measure heat stress.

After that language was downgraded to "strongly recommended" for Monday's agenda, though, the board Monday asked for more information before revisiting the issue at its next meeting, June 11-12.

"I'm happy that they didn't just vote one way or another on the strong recommendations," Martin Giordano said. "I think that would have set us back."

FHSAA attorney Leonard Ireland cautioned board members that mandating such equipment would be hard to enforce, and that it would be a liability to the association.

Board members who were supportive of making the equipment mandatory questioned why they would make education mandatory but not require access to cold tubs when many schools already have them for post-training conditioning recovery.

"I didn't really hear any true opposition," Sefcik said of the 16-person board of directors. "I had a very optimistic feeling about everything we were discussing."

Sefcik proposed that affidavits acknowledging use of wet-bulb globe thermometers and access to ice tubs for rapid cooling might address Ireland's liability or policing concerns.

The board also wanted more information on how many schools already have or use ice tubs and the special thermometers, how many of each piece of equipment schools might need for multiple sports, and what type of medical and athletic training or administrative staff is ordinarily on hand.

"I think we just need to give them a few additional components," Sefcik said. "We entrusted that staff will be able to pull that together."

Follow @NewsPressSeth on Twitter.

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May 2, 2018


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