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IHSA Introduces New Heat Safety Policy For State Series Events

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The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors voted to enact new heat safety guidelines for all IHSA postseason contests beginning with the 2016-17 school year. The new comprehensive policy, which can be viewed by clicking here, was approved at the Board of Directors meeting on Monday, June 13, 2016.

Officially called “Specific Guidelines for Managing Heat and Heat Illness”, the policy was created by the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. It applies only to State Series contests (Regionals, Sectionals, Super-Sectionals, State Finals, Football Playoffs), but the IHSA Board of Directors, Staff, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety encourage all member schools to use the policy as their minimum standard for managing heat at athletic competitions.

“This policy builds on the IHSA’s tradition of putting student-athlete safety at the forefront,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “We believe we now have a policy that is very effective in safeguarding student-athletes, however schools are certainly welcome to impose even more stringent guidelines related to regular-season athletic competition in extreme heat if they choose to do so.”

The policy is built upon Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) readings, which take into account factors such as humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover, in addition to air temperature, and is considered the most effective way of judging dangerous conditions by the Korey Stringer Institute and other industry experts.

As the WBGT rises, the policy builds in different types of safety measures. For example, at a WBGT range of 80.0-84.5 degrees Fahrenheit, hosts would provide “cooling stations using methods such as ice towels”, while a WBGT range of 87.6-89.9 degrees Fahrenheit would require four separate four-minute water breaks within an hour of competition. At a WBGT of 90, all events would be postponed to a cooler time of day or the next applicable day.

“According to the CDC, heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death among U.S. high school athletes,” said Lindenwood University Department of Athletic Training Chair William Dill (MS, ATC, CSCS), who is a member of the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. “The first step for player safety is always prevention and this policy aims to prevent exertional heat illnesses by modifying competitions based on the WBGT. Hopefully, this policy will also raise awareness that exercising in the heat can be dangerous, but good policies can go a long way in protecting student-athletes.”

Anderson stressed that the IHSA Board and staff understand there may be initial resistance from coaches that extreme heat could significantly alter playing schedules, especially in sports like baseball, where rest for pitchers is an important part of game-planning. The IHSA piloted the policy during the IHSA Class 3A and Class 4A Baseball and Softball State Finals on June 10 and 11 at Silver Cross Field in Joliet and the Eastside Centre in East Peoria, respectively. The IHSA altered game times to avoid playing during the hottest hours of the day and also added in ice towels and water breaks, among other measures, as the WBGT dictated.

“Even with the extreme temperatures we saw on June 10 and 11, the WBGT never reached the threshold where we had to suspend or postpone play,” said Anderson. “Much of this policy is really aimed at common sense precautions, or making measures like in-game water breaks that schools were already imploring in hot temperatures a requirement instead of a suggestion.”

The IHSA used a Wet Bulb Globe Thermometer, which can provide an immediate WGBT reading, at both state final sites, however the device, which can range from approximately $100 dollars to $500 dollars, is not a requirement to adhere to the IHSA policy. The policy provides a WBGT conversion chart for tournament managers, who can attain the necessary information from most smart phone weather applications.

“It will undoubtedly take some time, resources and training to apply this policy,” said Anderson. “However, we know our schools understand the importance of putting student safety first. The Play Smart. Play Hard. motto is built around that ideal.”

The IHSA established Play Smart. Play Hard. in 2015, which is a player-safety initiative aimed at empowering student-athletes, parents, coaches and fans to educate themselves on player safety issues and the steps that have been taken in Illinois to protect student-athletes. Those efforts included forming a new IHSA committee, the Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety, who also endorsed the new policy.

“Heat-related illness and death is 100% preventable,” said Northwestern University Associate Athletic Director and Director of Athletic Training Services Tory Lindley (MA, ATC), who is a member of the Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety. “I am proud of the IHSA for instituting this policy. Athletic Trainers are now armed with the support needed to direct and educate athletes, coaches and administrators on who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken to prevent a heat-related issue.”

The IHSA will hold a series of interactive webinars to help educate member school coaches and administrators on the new policy in preparation for the fall season, and again prior to the start of the 2017 spring sports seasons.