The first football game of the season is little more than a week away for the Chiefs of North Myrtle Beach High School, and the school's players, along with most others across the state, have already been practicing for the past two weeks.
It's been a couple of weeks of extreme heat and high humidity, with heat indices often in the triple digits. At an in-service meeting for Horry County coaches Thursday, North Myrtle Beach High School athletic trainer Keeter Hayes passed along advice on making sure athletes stay healthy during extremely hot weather conditions.
"Our first thing is that they do something in the off season to prepare, and our kids this year have done a great job in the weight room and in summer conditioning," Hayes said.
Coaches may recommend their own pre-season conditioning for their student athletes, Hayes said. The South Carolina High School League also requires that the first three days of football practice must be in non-contact conditioning, to give the young men a chance to become acclimated to working out in the hot weather before putting on their pads.
Making sure athletes drink plenty of water during their summer workouts is also critical, Hayes said. "We try to make sure that they're hydrated before practice, during practice and then after practice, to keep them loaded with fluids."
Hayes said he keeps a close eye on the players who seem to be the most distressed by the heat. It's not uncommon for coaches or trainers to pull a young man or two off the practice field to recover.
"We take them out, we cool them down. If they're able to come back, they'll come back back. If not, then they're out for the day, just depends on the situation."
A 14-year-old Lamar freshman died last month, shortly after leaving the football practice field, on a day when the temperature topped 100 degrees. The Darlington county coroner later ruled Tyquan Brantley died as a result of sickle-cell crisis.
Brantley's death and similar incidents weigh on the mind of Myrtle Beach High School coach Mickey Wilson, as his team gears up for the season. "The most important thing is the safety of our kids and we try to make sure that we do take care of the those guys," Wilson said, following the in-service meeting.
Wilson said he tries to schedule much of his team's practice for the cooler parts of the day. "We try to get in in the morning, practice early and try to stay out of the heat in the middle part of the day. And we really talk to our kids about hydration."
The Myrtle Beach team takes a water break after each practice period, which usually lasts 8 to 12 minutes, Wilson said. "I encourage them to drink water whether they want it or not and we try to make sure they do that at all times."
It's advice Wilson wants his players to follow, even when they're not on the practice or playing field. "We really preach to them, when they go home, make sure they stay hydrated. And that's the biggest thing, drink plenty, plenty of water."
During a recent football practice at Kingstree High School, coach Reginald Jameson said he and his staff are very cautious when it comes to having his players work out in the heat, because he's aware of the illnesses and injuries that can result from it.
"They're working hard, they're not complaining, and we're encouraging them, when you feel faint or anything with this heat, let us know."
According to the Annual Survey of Football Injury, there were 127 heat stroke cases that resulted in death, from 1960 through 2009. In 2010, there were four cases of heat stroke death at the high school football level, the report found.
Dr. Frederick Mueller, the professor in exercise and sports science who compiled the report, said every effort should be made to educate coaches on the proper procedures and precautions when practicing in the heat.
"There is no excuse for any number of heat stroke deaths since they are all preventable with the proper precautions," the report concluded.