The news last year that a Kentucky high school football coach was charged with reckless homicide in the heat-related death of 15-year-old Max Gilpin was not a shock to me.*
Hewas not the first youth sports coach to be charged with reckless homicide of a young athlete and, until we can get the word out to all sports parents and coaches about why football players are especially vulnerable to heat illness, the steps that can be taken to reduce those risks, including following a strict fluid replacement strategy, I am afraid he won't be the last. Sadly, even though heat-related illness is one of the most preventable of all youth sports injuries, players continue to die. In 2008, six players at the high school and college level died from heat-related illness, matching the average for the last several years.
The day after Max died, I received an e mail from a Kentucky dad in the same school league as Max to tell me what had happened and what had almost happened to his son practicing with full pads during some brutally hot days. He was asking permission to download a number of YouthSportsParents articles from the MomsTeam Hydration Safety Center to hand out to all of the coaches and parents, permission which, of course, I gladly granted.
Each summer for the past nine years MomsTeam has received hundreds of emails from parents complaining about coaches putting their children at risk of heat stroke by running practices when the NOAA heat index says that there is an elevated risk of heat illness, or worse, and by failing to take the frequent fluid breaks and other steps that are needed to protect them. Parents are at a loss of what to do or what to say, especially during summer try-outs.
Perhaps, it will take a football coach going to jail to bring increased awareness and finally get coaches to think twice about pushing their players too hard during pre-season practices in the sweltering heat of summer, some out of ignorance but many out of a misguided, macho belief that it toughens them up and that they need to learn to "take it like a man."
At some point, though, I am afraid the only way to really protect our kids from heat stroke is to pass legislation that mandates the steps that every coach must take to eliminate the risk and makes them criminally liable if they don't.
I have been researching and writing about youth sports for over fifteen years. Central to my work is to keep kids safe while participating in sports. Whenever I am interviewed by the media or while giving community talks I remind parents to remember that the three "H"s( Head, Heart and Hydration )are the key to preventing catastrophic injury or death in sports. To that end, MomsTeam has comprehensive safety information about concussions (head), cardiac safety (heart) and hydration.
I encourage you to visit the Health & Safety Channel on MomsTeam, to link to our site and to download our articles to give to your child's coach and to hand out to other parents on your child's team.
Together we can make sure that Max did not die in vain.
* The coach was later acquitted