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UA News

Program taking the heat seriously

By Connor Doyle

Tuesday August 21, 2001 |

Arizona Daily Wildcat

There's no denying that the hot topic in the world of football of late has been the rash of deaths from heat. Much of the country experienced unprecedented temperatures, and the stories of players from Pop Warner to the NFL dying have become a daily staple.

UA football's certified athletic trainer, Matt Radelet, was willing to take a couple of minutes to share what he thought about the numerous cases of heat-related deaths in football and what UA football was doing to prevent it from happening here in Tucson, no stranger to obscenely hot summers.

"Right now, it's not that we're having more incidents (of heat-related deaths), it's that the media is paying greater attention to them when they happen," he said. "It's a good thing, because the increased attention should make coaches and administrators more aware of the danger."

The UA football program has definitely noticed. Even at a night practice, with the temperature in the mid-80s, a large tent was set up with everything an overheated player could need - water, Gatorade, large fans with misters, and cold towels.

"In these types of situations (playing in the heat), what matters the most is getting the body temperature down one or two degrees," Radelet said. "It makes a huge difference in how the players feel and how they perform on the field."

And just in case the towels and fans don't work, there's a kiddie pool filled with water and ice just slightly smaller than your average defensive lineman.

"Thankfully, we've never had to use (the pool), and hopefully we never will," Radelet said. "But it's important we have it, because just the two to three minutes it would take to get to the UMC could be the difference between a quick recovery and irreversible damage."

Clearly, the coaching staff has made an effort to make practices safer - something made even more important this season with new head coach John Mackovic's decision to move fall camp from Douglas to campus. The weather at Camp Cochise was usually around 10 degrees cooler than Tucson.

Where the players used to get only one break per practice session, they now get two. They're weighed before and after practices. If a player loses more than eight pounds between weigh-ins, he'll be held out until the medical staff can make sure he has recovered. Players are encouraged to watch for signs of dehydration and head exhaustion (cramps, nausea and dizziness, among other things) and inform the staff immediately if they think they might be in the slightest danger.

Radelet said there have only been three or four cases where a player has exhibited the warning signs of heat-related problems, and each time they've been able to avoid serious problems.

"If anybody starts showing any of the signs (of problems), we'll bring them out, get their pads off, put them in the shade, give them cold towels and make them drink," he said.

The precautions have also extended off the field. Players are now forced to carry a water bottle around with them at all times of the day and keep it filled. If they're caught without it, they're sure to receive a stern word from the coaching or medical staff. The players are encouraged to keep an eye out for signs of prolonged dehydration, like the color of their urine and diarrhea. While it may not be the most pleasant experience for the players, they don't have to look far for examples of what can happen if they don't take care of themselves.

Even though the program has taken every precaution it can to try and prevent any problems with UA players, Radelet knows it's impossible to completely take care of the problem.

"I don't think it's reasonable to expect for the problem to go away, because it's up to the players to pay attention to themselves and let the staff know if they're having problems," he said. "Some of the guys have developed a real mentality that they've got to be 'tough guys,' they've got to push through everything, so we have to fight little battles with them.

"It's unrealistic to expect, especially in this climate, that we're not going to have any problems. Three or four cases is much less than I expected."


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