Six Rowan County High School football players were treated for heat exhaustion after becoming ill during practice Wednesday morning, and Fayette County schools later canceled all its football practices for the day as record temperatures pushed heat indexes well above 100 degrees in many areas of Kentucky.
Penny Alderson, assistant principal at Rowan County High, said one player remained under observation at St. Claire Regional Medical Center late Wednesday afternoon, although he appeared to be doing well. The other five were released, she said. The six players became ill around 10 a.m. during the team's morning practice, she said.
Meanwhile, Fayette County Public Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said football practices at all district schools were canceled about 11 a.m. Wednesday, after heat indexes at practice fields at Henry Clay and Bryan Station high schools were measured at 103. District policy calls for practices to be halted at a heat index of 103, Deffendall said, even though it is one degree less than required by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Other outdoor activities, such as marching band practices, also were canceled unless they could be moved inside, Deffendall said.
No problems were reported, said Don Adkins, the district's athletics director.
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The state has strengthened heat safety requirements for high school athletic coaches since the death of Max Gilpin, a football player at Louisville's Pleasure Ridge Park High School, in August 2008. He collapsed after practicing in 94-degree heat. Among other things, coaches must complete an online safety course required by the Kentucky General Assembly. They're also trained to ask specific questions of players who seem disoriented, and to react quickly to heat exhaustion or other injuries.
Blistering temperatures scorched most of Kentucky on Wednesday. The thermometer hit 96 degrees in Lexington, and it was hotter in Louisville, with a temperature of 101 and a heat index of 112. It was 95 in London, breaking a record of 94 for the date set in 2005, while Jackson tied a 5-year-old record high with 95 degrees. The heat index in both cities hit 108, the National Weather Service said.
The weather has been causing problems for high school athletic teams, many of which are practicing for the upcoming season. For example, the Graves County High School soccer team in Western Kentucky halted its practice Tuesday after the heat index reached 103. "I've never seen anything like it," the school's athletic trainer, Kevin Hansen, told the Western Kentucky Star.
The Rowan County High football team began practice about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to Alderson, the assistant principal. School policy requires practices in the morning only in extremely hot weather, she said.
But one player became ill from the heat about 10 a.m., and a coach called an ambulance, Alderson said. Three more players complained of symptoms soon afterward, and all four were sent to the hospital when the ambulance arrived, she said.
Two other players who later complained of feeling ill were checked by a school nurse, then taken to the hospital by their parents as a precaution, according to Alderson.
She said football coach ShaDon Brown checked the heat index before practice began Wednesday morning, and it was 87, well within KSHAA regulations requiring that practices stop if the heat index tops 104. Alderson said the school had not decided whether to have football practice Thursday.
In Lexington, Lafayette High School band director Chuck Smith said he halted the band's outdoor practice about 30 minutes early Wednesday morning because of the heat.
"The temperature was getting up there, and they already had worked really hard, so we stopped early and moved inside," Smith said. The band normally practices indoors in the afternoon during its band camp, he said.
Adkins, the Fayette schools' athletics director, said the district's athletic trainers have equipment to measure heat indexes on playing fields. Practices were called off Wednesday when heat indexes reached 103, he said. It was the first time practices have been halted because of heat this year, he said.
"When the index reaches 103, trainers have the authority to pull coaches and teams off the practice fields, which they did this morning," Adkins said.
Some Fayette County football teams had practices around 7 Wednesday night, but Adkins said he wasn't sure whether they would be held. If heat indexes remained at 103 or higher, trainers would halt practices again, he said.
Robert Szappanos, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville, said Kentucky should get some relief in a few days — but it won't last long.
Temperatures should fall into the 80s Saturday and Sunday, Szappanos said, then climb back to the mid-90s Monday.