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Water key as local practices start

August 17, 2001|By ROBERT FULTON, Special to this newspaper

Sweat-soaked clothes stick to the body and a tall, cool glass of water seems to be only a dream. And that is only a morning trip to the supermarket.

Imagine how a high school football player must feel.

This week and next, hundreds of young Valley athletes attempting to reach their dreams of playing high school football are venturing into what is "affectionately" known as "Hell Week."

One thing at the forefront of many people's minds this summer is heat exhaustion on the practice field.

Earlier this summer, the harsh reality of football training camp hit the front pages when Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer died of heat stroke, the first such reported training camp incident at the professional level. Similar incidents already have occurred at the college and high school levels this summer.

Could something like that happen in the Valley, where temperatures regularly top 110 degrees?

Local coaches do everything they can to make sure tragedy does not strike.


"With high temperatures and whatnot, and when you combine the humidity with that, you can lose a lot of water, so we tell them to drink plenty of water consistently," said Joe Apodaca, head football coach at Central Union High School.

Water is definitely a recipe for success.

"Kids have their own water jugs with ice water in it," added Mike Swearingen, Imperial high School's head football coach. "We have managers that go around with sprayers that spray them. We water break. The longest we go is 10 minutes, then we water break. One reason that we have our kids bring their own water is they do not drink after each other. That way if somebody has a cold it doesn't spread."

Football practice is grueling, with warm-ups, sprints and agility tests among the drills.

"We put them through hell," Swearingen said.

Because of the extreme heat, local schools practice in the early morning and early evening.

A healthy diet and taking care of the body during non-practice time is crucial to staying healthy.

"We tell them that as soon as they get through with practice to make sure they go home and consume a lot of the correct fluids and they eat the correct things," Swearingen said.

"Rest, go home, get off your feet, get plenty to eat and drink plenty of fluids," Apodaca added. "Stay away from the carbonated water. No sodas. Drink as much water as you can. Drink Gatorade, Powerade, whatever you can get your hands on that's not carbonated, preferably water. We always advise them to get off of the (nutritional) supplements about a month prior (to practice starting). Some of them have a tendency to dehydrate you or whatnot."

One thing most local athletes have in their favor is they are used to the weather. The programs have spring practice, so the athletes gradually get used to the high temperatures.

"We went through spring ball during the afternoons. We came out about 4 o'clock and we came about at 6 o'clock during the summer," Apodaca said. "So they've gotten used to it. But we're going to tell them, reiterate to them, that they've got to get water into their systems. It's definitely something to be concerned about."

Water breaks have not always been the norm.

"When I played the game, they didn't give you water," Swearingen said. "It was believed, the old wive's tale, that water caused cramps. We went through two-and-a-half hour practices with no water. And they gave us salt pills. It's just like a lot of things that people gain knowledge on. I think it's good that the knowledge has come out."

Many of the players know what they are facing.

"Whenever coach says it's water break, I just get enough water, no too much, not too little," said Andy Cherry, an Imperial senior. "I sit down, cool off. Just stay mental, keep in the game. Like coach always says, ‘Don't give in to fatigue, because fatigue makes cowards of us all.' "

"When I was a freshman, I pushed myself to the limit," added D.J. Hastings, another Imperial senior. "It is a lot of pressure because you don't want to show people that you are weak. You want to show them you are the best."

Yes, football camp is about forming the best team possible. Yes, it can be fun and rewarding, but with such intense conditions, the athletes' safety is of the utmost importance.

"A lot of these kids here are so used to this weather that it's not that much of a shock to them," Apodaca said. "But you've always got to keep an eye on them. You don't know what kind of shape these kids are in. If a kid shows up that we haven't seen, we don't know what kid of shape he's in, so we've got to look at him. Even a guy who is in good shape, you don't know how he's going to react. These guys are young. You've got to watch them."

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