Wednesday, August 15, 2007

SPORTS >>Teams dealing with heat

Leader sports editor

“I haven’t seen it like this since the 80s when the freeways were buckling.” That’s how Jacksonville head football coach Mark Whatley described the heat in which his team is practicing twice a day in the heat. Teams have been doing it for decades all over the country.

Whatley’s counterpart in Cabot, Mike Malham, concurs when it comes to the heat.

In the deep South, the heat can occasionally become problematic, as it has this year with temperatures reaching well into triple digits, and the heat index at times soaring above 110 degrees.

Compound that with the fact that the players are wearing a few dozen pounds of gear that can also double as insulation, and the temperatures they’re experiencing are even greater.

Whatley knows what it’s like to endure practice in that kind of heat.

When those freeways were buckling, he was going through two-a-days at Ouchita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. He understands what the players are going through, and is taking every precaution and then some.

“The biggest thing that we have, and I thank the Lord every day that we have him, is Jason Cates,” Whatley said of the Jacksonville athletic trainer who also practices sports medicine for Ortho Arkansas.

“He does a fantastic job of monitoring these kids,” Whatley said, “weighing them before and after every practice. He has it down to exactly how much fluid they need to take in every practice. I want to do everything in our power to make sure these kids are taken care of. We just happen to have a big advantage in that area with Jason, and we’re darn sure we’re going to use him.”

Just down the road at rival Cabot, which has a reputation for holding one of the more grueling preseason regimens, this year’s heat has forced some extra precaution, although head coach Mike Malham hasn’t seen much of a problem.

“Our kids haven’t had much trouble with (the heat),” Malham said. “They’re in good shape and we keep ‘em hydrated pretty good. We let ‘em take a pretty long break after about an hour now. We give ‘em about 10 minutes to get back inside and get all the water and Gatorade they can drink. It helps us too that we have air conditioned dressing rooms now. That helps get them cooled down a lot better. Walking into a 70-degree dressing room gets that body temperature down a lot quicker.”
Cabot has practiced with water troughs constantly running for several years now. They’re normally utilized only during planned breaks for a quick drink and back to practice, but that’s different this year.

“We keep ‘em running and anytime they want water they can run over and get a drink as long as they don’t miss their drill,” Malham said.

Both teams, as have most at this point, have cut back from two-a-days to now just practicing once a day, but mandatory teachers’ meetings have forced practice time back to a terrible time of day.

“The worry is not as great because we’re down to once a day,” Malham said. “The only problem is we won’t get to practice until about 3:30. I like to start afternoon practice about 1:00 and get finished about 3:30 before the heat index gets up real high, but we’re not able to do that right now.”

Whatley and the Jacksonville staff are faced with the same dilemma, and are trying to find an alternate practice, but Whatley admits it may not be possible.

“I’d like to start practicing in the evenings, but I don’t know if it will work,” Whatley said. “I’ve got so many that have jobs it may not be possible. But we’re going to get with them today, evaluate where everybody has to be and see if we can start practicing later.”