As this week comes to an end, we will see the highest temperatures of the summer to date.

Consequently, parents and coaches of in-season athletes – particularly baseball and softball catchers, and of those conditioning for the upcoming cross country, football, soccer and volleyball seasons should be on guard. Extra water and sports drinks, plenty of ice, different start times and modified or postponed sessions should be the order of any day with excessive heat and humidity.

Ditto for parents and directors of marching band members.

Too often, environmental dangers are overlooked when it comes to marching bands. So says research out of the University of Kansas that was presented last month at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s annual meeting that took place in – of all places – Las Vegas.

Dawn Emerson, PhD, ATC, the lead researcher on the study, is the director of the undergraduate athletic training program at KU and was a member of the marching band at Alabama during her own undergraduate days.

Along with colleagues at the University of South Carolina, where she did her graduate work, Emerson measured the core temperatures of band members at KU and the University of South Carolina via an ingestible telemetric pill over the course of three early-season practices and two games in 2018. In all, 19 band members participated, 10 from the University of South Carolina and nine from KU.

Remarkably, KU band members experienced warmer performance conditions than the University of South Carolina's. More ominously, fully two-thirds (6) of those studied at KU registered a core temperature of at least 104° F – the temperature at which heat stroke starts – for more than one hour during at least one game. None of the six, however, displayed neurologic dysfunction during that time and they recovered to a normal temperature spontaneously. No such excessive core temperatures were recorded at the University of South Carolina.

I sat down with Emerson in Las Vegas and she attributed the differences between the two schools to several factors. The University of South Carolina games are played on grass; KU plays on artificial turf. The University of South Carolina practiced four days per week, but its practice durations averaged 30 minutes less than KU’s, where they practiced three days per week. The University of South Carolina's band has an athletic trainer; KU’s does not – yet.

KU had warm weather uniforms and the University of South Carolina did not. Yet, KU band members were allowed to wear that cooler gear only for the first game of the season. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the temperature was higher for game two than game one, when the on-field wet bulb globe temperature climbed to a staggering 123.8° F.

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No wonder two-thirds of those studied were flirting with heat stroke.

Two years ago, in this space, I reported on marching band safety guidelines that had just been published by the NATA (National Athletic Trainers’ Association). 

Asked if she had any additional advice beyond those guidelines, Emerson responded, “Have an athletic trainer.”

The recommendation makes sense. A companion study by the same investigators, also presented in Las Vegas, revealed that the members of both bands typically started practices dehydrated. And dehydration/heat is not the only medical issue band members face.

“They’re out of shape usually, coming in to the summer (but) they are not required to have physicals. There is such an array of individuals. They experience a lot of the same issues that your traditional athletes do yet do not have access to care,” Emerson said.

“They (accidentally) run over each other,” she continued when asked about concussions.

“They carry crazy heavy equipment for hours,” she explained when queried about shin splints and stress fractures.

Finally, the typical high school band has at least as many members as the typical high school football team. At the college level, the band has far more. So, while the weight of some band equipment may be crazy, not having an athletic trainer is crazier.

John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.