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Heat policy violations could cost schools thousands

What are the standards for protecting students while practicing in the summer? It turns out that breaking the rules could cost a school thousands of dollars.

WOODSTOCK, Ga. — Summers in Georgia can be brutal, even dangerous, with the heat and humidity. That’s why schools have rules for when sports teams can practice outside.

Last month we told you about 17-year-old Elyse Purefoy who died at her dance practice. There’s still no word on why, and the school has not been found at fault, but it got us thinking.

What are the standards for protecting students while practicing in the summer? It turns out that breaking the rules could cost a school thousands of dollars.

It all depends on the numeric reading on one device: the wet bulb globe.

Chelsey Beckham, Head Athletic Trainer at River Ridge High School in Woodstock, showed us how it works.

She walked into the center of the practice field. The device looks a bit like a handheld microphone. It has a rectangular base with buttons and a screen to show the reading. It extends into a cylindrical piece of metal with an opaque black globe on the top a little bigger than a golf ball.   

“The wet bulb is taking the temperature and humidity, and it’s giving us a number. It’s calculating, so we’re not just getting that dry temperature, because here in Georgia it’s very humid here,” Beckham said. “I hold it up in the air. I wait until the degrees stop within 30 seconds to a minute, and that is when I record it.”

As she demonstrated this on the field, the reading teetered between 78 and 79. According to Georgia High School Association (GHSA) rules, that means there are no restrictions.

“Under 82, there’s no restrictions. Above 92, you can’t do anything,” said GHSA’s Don Corr.

Every high school in Georgia has to follow these rules.

In between 82 and 92 degrees, the rules vary. Between 82 and 86.9, coaches have to provide at least three separate 4-minute breaks per hour. Once it passes 87, practice is restricted to 2 hours and only certain equipment can be worn. Between 90-92 degrees, practice can only last one hour, no equipment can be worn, and the rest breaks have to total 20 minutes each hour.

The University of Georgia helped GHSA come up with these rules in 2012 after deaths across the country.

“It happened in the NFL, it’s happening at colleges. It’s happened everywhere. So we had to put something in place to help prevent that from happening, and it’s doing really good,” Corr said.

Someone on the field, in this case, Chelsey, has to take the wet bulb reading 30 minutes before practice starts and every hour thereafter. Then, she has to record the reading on a form and save the records. If she says practice is over, that’s it.

Most summer workouts are voluntary, but the acclimation period before the first official day of practice is not optional.

“Five days to get used to the heat before they start practice. That’s a mandatory thing,” Corr said.

If a school breaks these rules, they could pay $500-$2,500 in fines.

Corr says this policy applies to every sport, not just football, and it’s year-round. However, it only applied to practices, not games.

“Practices sometimes get more intense, and your whole team is out there at one time. You have 11 of your own guys on 11 of the other. They run it again right away. It’s also built-in in games and football, there’s time in between plays. There’s timeouts. In August and September, we take extra timeouts as officials feel necessary. We take extra time and don’t charge the teams to help them hydrate better,” Corr said.

The first official day of practice for River Ridge will be July 29.


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