John Doherty

Photo of John Doherty

DALLAS — Summer’s heat may be receding in the Calumet Region.

However, its grip has not yet released fall athletes in this state and its neighbors. For example, the temperature was 96 degrees when Texas State and SMU kicked off at 6 p.m. local time Saturday.

The conditions were no different a week earlier when LSU visited Texas in Austin at 6:30 p.m. local time. The Tigers edged the Longhorns in the Top 10 match-up but, by its conclusion, weather-related controversy had started and continued last week in the national media.

Texas complained that a dozen-or-so LSU players going down with heat cramps stretched rules. The Longhorns inferred that more than a few of those cases, which required timeouts to initially treat the afflicted players and then get them off the field, were flops designed to give the visiting team a chance to catch its collective breath.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron responded by claiming that LSU had been warned by Louisiana Tech — who had visited Austin the week before — that the visitors’ locker room was not air conditioned. Consequently, LSU felt compelled to bring their own cooling equipment.

Texas officials cried foul, asserting that the visitors’ locker room was air conditioned and then produced printouts and graphs that showed the equipment in the LSU locker room was working properly before, during, and after the game.

In the chaos of postgame finger pointing, though, one thing is clear. Not far from the madding crowd — specifically 30 miles to the south in San Marcos — Texas State was hosting Wyoming in a game that started 30 minutes earlier. Yet, from kickoff to conclusion, not once was the contest interrupted by a Bobcat or Cowboy with heat cramps.

Texas State staff credited heat acclimatization, overall conditioning and a diet high in electrolytes for their players avoiding what apparently occurred to LSU’s. They also theorized that Wyoming practicing at 7,220 feet, thus improving one’s ability to absorb oxygen, was a benefit to the visitors.

Whatever the reasons for the lack of cramping in San Marcos, it is further worth noting that there was no cramping severe enough to require on-field attention during the Texas State/SMU match-up, either — further credit to heat acclimatization. A process that takes 10-14 days, it is the body’s way of adjusting to constant exposure to uncomfortably high temperatures. Once acclimated, the body cools itself more efficiently.

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The greater issue, of course, tied to heat acclimatization is heat stroke rather than heat cramps. The latter are an aggravation; the former is a life-threatening medical emergency.

Historically, the vast majority of in-season, heat-related football deaths have occurred during the first week of practice. Thus, there are now rules in place in most states that mandate a gradual acclimatization process during that first week.

Still, the best-designed heat acclimatization programs will not prevent all cases. There will always be athletes, particularly at the high school level, who arrive at practice dehydrated due to inadequate fluid consumption and/or digestive system illness. Energy drinks and performance enhancing drugs will also make one susceptible to heat stroke.

On the rare occasion then that heat stroke does occur — when one’s internal temperature exceeds 104 degrees, it must be recognized and treated promptly.

Recognition requires measuring core temperature rectally. The treatment must be done onsite, NOT after a ride by ambulance to an emergency room.

That treatment is so simple that HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel dedicated a segment to it last month.

“I thought that the story was going to be that the fix for heat stroke was something that was wildly expensive,” correspondent Soledad O’Brien said. “So, that the conundrum would be, you can save a life but it costs $25,000 which most schools cannot afford. So, imagine my surprise when in fact that’s not the case at all. The fix is $100, $105 in some places, $150.”

The cost to which O’Brien refers is for a plastic cold water immersion tub that is required by high school associations in 11 states and the District of Columbia, not including Indiana and Illinois. In her reporting, O’Brien repeatedly asked why the tubs are not required.

And while Indiana and Illinois may not require the cooling tubs — yet, that does not prevent individual school districts and youth leagues from acquiring them and putting a plan in place to use them when appropriate.

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.