Heat Precautions Emphasized After HS Player's Death

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


As football players were shuttled on and off the field at Wednesday's 7-on-7 passing league at South Fort Myers High School, there was no shortage of coaches barking at their players to hydrate.

"Take water," a Cape Coral High assistant coach screamed as his players jogged to the water tanker. "Drink it, pour it on your head and down your back."

Each summer during conditioning workouts and on into fall training camp, Lee and Collier County coaches remain vigilant in educating their players about the need for hydration and a healthy diet as temperatures reach the high 90s.

The issue returned to the forefront over the last two weeks when a 16-year-old Riverdale High football player collapsed during a June 29 workout as a result of heat stroke. Zachary Polsenberg fell into a coma as his body temperature reached 107 degrees for at least an hour and died after he was taken off life support Monday.

A Lee County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said investigators are looking into Polsenberg's death.

While the Southwest Florida community mourns, coaches' sense of safety have been heightened.

Related: Heat Stroke Blamed in HS Football Player's Death

Cypress Lake High coach Richie Rode hasn't changed the way his program operates during summer workouts. However, he makes sure six to eight coaches are present for sessions and are on the lookout for early signs of dehydration and heat-related illnesses.

"It's just about being aware," said Rode, who is in his second year at Cypress following a stint at Fort Myers High as an assistant. "We're constantly talking about hydrating. We're constantly talking about eating properly. We try and help them out as much as possible. We have water at everything we do. Even when we're inside."

The Florida High School Athletic Association regulates summer workouts for football in that players are prohibited from wearing helmets and pads and engaging in physical contact of any kind.

Riverdale holds voluntary workouts indoors and outdoors from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday in June and July.

Polsenberg and his teammates participating in workouts were not in pads.

Once fall practice begins July 31, helmets only are worn the first two days followed by three days of helmets and shoulder pads before full gear is allowed on the sixth day.

From 1995 to 2015, 61 football players died from heat stroke (46 high school, 11 college, two professional, and two organized youth), according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. Ninety percent of recorded heat stroke deaths occurred during practice.

Rode hopes to never be in that situation. That is why he doesn't train his players for more than five minutes at a time when they are outside running.

He and Dunbar High coach Sammy Brown said there are multiple water stations surrounding their practice fields, in the weight rooms and in the gymnasiums at their schools.

When Naples High coach Bill Kramer takes his players out onto the field on days like Wednesday when the temperature reached 90 degrees at South, there are tubs and kiddie pools filled with ice and water as well as canopies where players can shade themselves.

Kramer said it is important to have the ice baths nearby in case one of his coaches spots warning signs of a player overheating such as they aren't understanding a coach's commands or if their balance is off.

At Naples, coaches are proactive in educating players about the need to hydrate and eat healthy while they're at home before going to practice. The Golden Eagles have urine color charts in their locker room bathrooms so players can identify if they need to hydrate more. Dark yellow means a player needs more fluid.

"There's so many variables," Kramer said. "All we can do is educate them to keep them cool. It's a constant conversation. We're in Florida. I don't know a coach who doesn't do that."

South Fort Myers coach Brian Conn said his players can't hydrate enough.

"Water, water, water," Conn said. "You have to make sure they know that it's important to hydrate while they're here but also while they're not here."

During the 7-on-7 players took water breaks after each series and in a few cases players asked to be subbed out for a play or two to hydrate. When not competing in a game teams found shade under the bleachers or near overhangs.

While he was the coach at Ida Baker High six years ago, Conn described a situation where one of his players overheated. In addition to calling an ambulance, he said it was important to reduce the player's body temperature by placing ice under his armpits and in his crotch area.

Conn was thankful the incident his player dealt with was nowhere close to reaching the severity of the situation that unfolded at Riverdale.

"Some things are just unavoidable," Conn said. "It's very unfortunate what happened (at Riverdale). You have to have procedures in place and make sure the coaches know what to do in those cases. In that case, I'm sure they did what they could to cool the body down."

Family donates Polsenberg's organs

The family of Zachary Martin-Polsenberg has announced that the organs of the Fort Myers teen have been donated to save other lives. The 16-year-old Riverdale High football player died this week after suffering heat stroke at a summer workout 10 days earlier. Through the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency in Miami, Polsenberg donated his corneas for two people to be able to see again; his heart valves to save the lives of three people; and his muscle and brain tissue for medical research. Polsenbery's mother Laurie Martin Giordano said, "My heart is overflowing with pride and a sense of honor for these gifts from Zach."

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July 13, 2017


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