14 Vernon Aldridge copyAfter consecutive months of record-setting heat in June and July, high school football players and other outdoor fall sports athletes return to the practice fields in force Aug. 1 for the first official day of North Carolina High School Athletic Association preseason workouts. 

Heat is always a concern for athletes in Fayetteville and Cumberland County, but the string of triple-digit heat index days that were recorded during the last two months makes the challenge of keeping athletes safe in the heat a major focus heading into August.

Vernon Aldridge, student activities director for Cumberland County Schools, said heat awareness is always a priority for his office and the coaches and athletes he helps to oversee.

“Every athletic trainer is equipped with a wet bulb, and there’s a heat protocol for what’s supposed to take place at different temperatures on the wet bulb,’’ Aldridge said.

The wet bulb Aldridge referred to is a specially designed thermometer that is covered with a water-soaked cloth. Used in conjunction with a standard dry bulb thermometer, it measures the relative humidity of the air. The reading warns when precautions, up to and including suspending outdoor practice, should be taken.

The NCHSAA Handbook requires constant observation and supervision of all athletes at outdoor practices when the wet bulb temperature reaches 88-89.9 degrees. Once it hits 90 or above, all practice should be suspended. If that happens during an actual game, mandatory breaks are required.

Aldridge said Cumberland County has long adhered to those policies, while also making sure athletes get frequent water breaks and that water is readily available in all practice situations.

“We have misters that will be out to help keep the players cool,’’ he said. If a true heat emergency takes place, each school needs to have an immersion pool on-site so they can immediately put a player suffering from any symptoms of heat illness in the pool and cool them off.

Aldridge said that specifically in the case of football, where all the extra equipment increases the danger of heat illness, teams are discouraged from practicing between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“Most of our football teams practice either early in the morning or late in the evening,’’ Aldridge said. “If for some reason the heat does come in earlier, I send out emails to the schools letting them know we are going to extend that time to 10 a.m. or 7 p.m. We keep a close eye on the heat index and try to make those decisions to keep the kids safe.

“That will be our No. 1 priority.’’

Pictured: Vernon Aldridge

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