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Prep coaches learn from Stringer’s death

Korey Stringer’s misfortune may save an athlete’s life as area high school athletes prepare to begin preseason conditioning.

Lake Tahoe is experiencing warmer-than-normal temperatues this week, but luckily most teams won’t open practice until Monday or Thursday of next week.

While the heat index isn’t the concern in the mountains like it is in humid climates such as the Midwest and deep South, some high school coaches aren’t taking any unnecessary chances.



In fact, South Tahoe High cross country running coach Dominique Westlake will require his runners to wear heart monitors during season-opening workouts. They began wearing them Monday during voluntary workouts, only days after Westlake returned from a health and physical education workshop.

“After hearing the presentations and seeing the results, I’m sold on them now. Not only with the team but classes as well,” said Westlake, who has guided the Vikings to first- and second-place state finishes the past two seasons. “It protects the kids and makes them more aware of what their body can and can’t do.



“Our number one concern is their safety. Winning is great, but at what price? That’s a price I’m not willing to pay. There’s so many aides available to us, and technology the way it is today, we should take advantage of it.”

Stringer, a veteran offensive lineman with the Minnesota Vikings, died of heat exhaustion last week during training camp after his body temperature rose to 108 degrees, causing his vital organs to shut down. His tragic death put coaches and school administators on alert throughout the country.

“It’s always a worry. Athletes every single year come down with heat exhaustion and heatstroke,” said new Whittell High Athletic Director Matt Beckstead. “Anytime we go down and play in warmer climates we become at risk because we’re not aclimatized to it.

“I will stress very highly to our coaches about heat injuries and the prevention and first aid for them.”

Steve Maltase is one of Beckstead’s coaches who will be on the lookout. His Warrior soccer team traditionally takes an early September trip to Las Vegas, where temperatures routinely eclipse the 100-degree mark.

“When we’re going to go somewhere really hot, we recommend that they drink a lot of water the night before. Fortunately, we haven’t had any problems,” said Maltase, who also coaches basketball and golf at Whittell.

While he was in the U.S. Army, Beckstead was directly involved in preventing heat-related injuries in basic training at Fort McClelland in Aniston, Ala. By combining humidity and heat readings – a wet bulb index measurement – Beckstead was able to decipher if conditions were too severe for recruits to train.

“We had five catageories and the fifth category you were at severe risk for heat injury. We used to hit that all the time,” he said. “I don’t have any of that equipment yet, but that’s certainly one of the things you look at for safety.”

Out-of-shape athletes are the ones most succeptible to the heat and dehyrdation, especially at the start of a sport when coaches focus on conditioning drills.

“I’ve had kids get sick on the first day of practice but nothing too extreme,” Maltase said. “Hopefully, we’ll get back to our normal Tahoe weather next week. But we try to practice in the mornings and evenings when it’s a little cooler.”

Lately, football has been the No. 1 sport of concern for heat-related injuries. Decades ago, breaking for water was considered a weakness by macho players and coaches. But today, bravado has been replaced by awareness and knowledge.

“We’ll certainly have more water out there,” said new STHS football coach Eric Beavers. “The days of no water and toughing it out are gone. If a guy needs water, he can go get it.”

Beavers feels comfortable with his kids’ conditioning going into fall camp because they have diligently worked out throughout the summer. Still, he may shorten practices if the weather remains warm.

“It depends on how the first practice goes,” he said. “We’ll get a feel of how exhausted they are. Maybe we’ll shorten practices and shorten the exposure outside.

“We’ll express our concerns to the players and make sure they understand that going without water is silly. We want them to perform at a high level so that means keeping themselves hydrated.”

Beavers also believes parents should assist the coaches in policing their children’s hydration.

“Parents of athletes need to understand that their kids need to consume water when they are at home. Even if they’re not thirsty. When they start drinking when they’re thirsty, it’s too late,” Beavers said.


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