Rhea Brown considers himself lucky.
The 32-year-old athletic trainer said he hasn’t had a major scare during August football practices, or even have to worry about a coach severely overworking his players in the August heat.
“I saw full-body cramps several times when I was at Mississippi State,” Brown said. “It’s not a real life-threatening situation.
“I haven’t noticed it too much at the high school level. I’ve been lucky.”
Since his days as a student athletic trainer at MSU, Brown has become a certified athletic trainer who’s worked with high school teams at South Panola, North Panola, Vardaman, Calhoun City and Delta Academy.
As a full-time employee with the North Mississippi Medical Center’s sports medicine program, Brown currently works with the Houlka High School and Tupelo High School athletic programs.
“Most of the schools that I’ve worked with are pretty attentive to the conditions,” Brown said. “The first three or four days of football practice are lighter practices to allow for heat acclimation.
“That’s been pretty common with the schools. There hasn’t been a problem. I haven’t had to strongly voice an opinion yet contradictory to how things are going.
“You don’t want to be in the forefront having to correct things they are doing.”
Unfortunately, as Brown pointed out, there was no athletic trainer present when a 15-year-old Kentucky football player collapsed during an August practice last year. The Kentucky player would die three days later from what is perceived to be heat stroke complications sustained from that practice.
Allegedly, the player’s coach was pushing the team too hard when it was running sprints in 94-degree weather.
“The death of that kid brought the realization that coaches need to take a little bit more precaution,” Brown said. “I haven’t had to really voice concerns or opinions that practices are lasting too long. Not all athletic trainers are lucky in that sense.
“Sometimes you have to be the one to pull them (coaches) back in line. You want them to use a little common sense, and hopefully that is the way things are.”
For the most part, high school coaches in North Mississippi are well-versed in providing first aid; Oxford football coach Johnny Hill said his school district requires coaches to take first aid.
Brown said the Mississippi High School Activities Association provides guidelines to help coaches run safe practices in extreme heat.
“The MHSAA guidelines aren’t really set in stone,” said Brown, who is a member of both the National Athletic Trainers’ and the Mississippi Athletic Trainers’ associations. “They’re more so recommendations to make sure things aren’t going into excess.”
He said the MHSAA has done “a good job in staying in contact with the MATA” and being up to date with NATA reports.
Last week’s NATA report suggested that high school football teams do away with two-a-day practices during the first week of practice in August.
“Doubles,” as what many players and coaches refer to the two practice sessions a day as, can take a critical toll on a player’s body, especially when they are held outside in high heat indexes.
“If the practices are running too close together, they can lead to a dangerous situation,” Brown said. “If they are split apart four or five hours, I think they can be done safely.”
In Texas, where the NATA report was released, high school football teams are required to have at least one hour between practices during double sessions. The recent report urges for at least a three-hour span between practices.
According to Brown, the Texas coaches have argued that a three-hour break between practices, especially when some teams begin practice at 6:30 a.m., could push the second practice into a time of the day when temperatures can be dangerous for outdoor activities.
“If they are done less than an hour apart, I wouldn’t want to be a part of that situation,” Brown said. “You need that time for the body’s core to cool down.
“The more time in between (the practices) the better.”
The Tupelo High football program holds two-a-days in the morning, with the first practice taking place from 7-9 and the second practice going from 10-noon.
Although there is only one hour between practices, the players practice in only helmets and shorts, and not in full equipment.
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal