High School Football

Doctors to look at athlete's death

The heat exhaustion death last year of a Louisville high school football player, whose coach was indicted Friday, is prompting a group of doctors to consider new protections for the state's high school athletes.

Madisonville physician James Bowles, who heads the medical committee that makes recommendations to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said his group will meet Thursday to discuss ways to stop such deaths.

One of the options comes from a national expert who suggests that filling a child's swimming pool with icy water at each practice could be the most important change.

"We will certainly entertain it," Bowles said Monday. "I think there will be some discussion on what we can do better."

Doug Casa, who led a national task force on heat illnesses in 2003, said the key piece of equipment that will save lives is a sturdy child's pool that costs about $100.

"We know of no deaths from heat stroke when someone is placed in a cold bath right after collapse," said Casa, director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut. The pool is a staple at hot weather practices for many high school, college and professional teams across the nation, he said.

In an interview Monday, Casa also suggested that coaches should weigh players before and after practice to see how much fluid they've lost, and on some hot days should have a tent for shade.

Casa said that wearing padding and full uniforms and intensity of play should be phased in gradually over a 10- to 14-day period. Currently, the KHSAA requires that players have five days of practice without padding to become accustomed to the heat.

The key to surviving heat stroke is to get an athlete's temperature under 104 degrees within 20 minutes of the incident, Casa said.

The Kentucky Medical Association committee headed by Bowles makes recommendations to the KHSAA every two years. Its members would review the KHSAA's policy on preventing heat exhaustion sometime this year even if a student had not died in 2008.

An urgent review

But Bowles said the August death of Pleasure Ridge Park High School offensive lineman Max Gilpin, 15, makes it even more urgent for the committee to review the current policy. A Jefferson grand jury indicted Gilpin's head coach, David Jason Stinson, on a charge of reckless hom icide Friday.

Stinson pleaded not guilty Monday.

Bell County Coach Dudley Hilton, whose team was undefeated this year, said he thinks that most football coaches are mindful of preventing heat-related problems.

He said the criminal charge against Stinson was sobering.

"Sure it hit home," said Hilton. "It's real scary. I've coached for 34 years and I thank God that I've gotten through 34 years without losing a player on the field. I can't imagine what a coach goes through."

Casa said that the KHSAA rules represent a good start toward protecting athletes, but should be expanded.

The KHSAA requires that players have a preseason physical and restricts practice when the heat index is higher than 95 degrees. Practice and play is banned when the heat index reaches 105 degrees. Coaches must keep a daily weather log showing heat indexes and submit it to the KHSAA annually.

At all times in hot weather, coaches are directed to watch athletes carefully and give them "as much water as they desire."

When the heat index is higher than 95 degrees, water breaks are mandatory.

One of six deaths

Stinson's weather log showed a heat index of 94 degrees when practice started on the day of Gilpin's collapse.

Gilpin died Aug. 23 of complications from heat stroke, three days after collapsing at practice.

It was one of six heat-related deaths in high school and college athletics in 2008.

In Kentucky, Henderson County High football player Ryan Owens died of heat-related causes in July 2006.

"This is not about football, this is not about coaches," Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney David Stengel told The Associated Press after Stinson's hearing. "This is about an adult person who was responsible for the health and welfare of a child."

Casa said he knows of no other coach in the country who has faced a homicide charge when an athlete has died.

One of Stinson's attorneys, Brian Butler, told the AP that his client is not responsible for Gilpin's death.

"Coach Stinson absolutely believes that he is innocent of these charges. This is a tragedy beyond belief for (Gilpin's) family," Butler said. "His heart goes out to them."

The criminal charge, Casa said, will definitely get the attention of coaches across the country.

"I think it will have a bigger impact than all of the previous heatstroke deaths," said Casa.