Beating the heat

Sam Herder
Members of the Devils Lake football team take a water break during their first practice Wednesday. High temperatures have made coaches stress staying hydrated and healthy.

By Sam Herder

Journal Sports

When Devils Lake cross country coach Curt Kukert had his runners meet on the east side of the high school late Wednesday morning for the team’s third practice, the temperature was in the 70s with a nice, cool breeze. But even so, Kukert reminded his athletes to stay hydrated, knowing the heat was well on its way.

A half hour later, the Firebird football team hit the practice field for the first time under first-year head coach Jake Wateland. The morning breeze quickly disappeared as the sun seared down from the cloudless sky. By the time Wateland called in his team for a huddle to end practice at noon, the temperature had reached the upper 80s.

The warm front hit right as the high school sports season began, with Devils Lake experiencing temperatures in the 90s this week.

With safety in sports being stressed even more compared to just a few years ago, coaches are monitoring their athletes closely.

The North Dakota High School Activities Association even offers a new online course on its website to prevent heat illness/stroke.

The football team, confined in their helmets and shoulder pads on day one, made sure to get several breaks in its practice schedule, including an extended one.

“We give them about a 10-15 minute break between our practices,” Wateland said. “They get plenty of water and we give them food, a little snack, too.

Fall camp is a strenuous two weeks for football, with plenty to get through while making sure the players are in football shape. Coaches must walk a fine line between getting their players physically ready and keeping them healthy.

Some of that, though, is the responsibility of the players.

“We talk to the boys about not only drinking plenty of water throughout the day, but to replenish their electrolytes,” Wateland said. “Gatorade, eating right, rest, food … nutrition is a huge part of their success, especially this time of the year.”

The cross country coaches also need to come up with a gameplan to keep their runners healthy in the dog days of August.

“It’s so tough with cross country where we’re away from the school,” Kukert said. “Football and volleyball, they have their water right there. Yesterday, we had the runners put their water bottles in (assistant coach) Justin Bear’s trunk, then he’d park and halfway they’d get a drink.”

While practices typically aren’t as long compared to football, endurance is the obvious factor in a cross country runner’s success, making the individual workouts longer.

Kukert is using different ways to get that endurance up. For example, his team did a swim workout Thursday morning.

But sometimes, you just can’t escape the heat.

Today, the team won’t be able to practice until 4 p.m. because of teacher inservice all day. Temperatures are expected to reach 95 degrees by that time.

“(Hydration) is the most important thing for them,” Kukert said. “Nutrition is important, too. But on hot days like this, especially this week and next week, staying hydrated is important. We make sure after their warm ups, everyone go gets water. Afterwards, stay hydrated. They may be feeling great, but you can dehydrate so quickly. We really watch that consistently.”

Something Wateland must watch and keep tabs on is following the practice restrictions set forth by the NDHSAA.

During the preseason, football contact practice regulations state a team can have a maximum of four contact practices per week. Contact practices are only allowed once a day on days with two practice sessions.

During the season, the maximum number of contact practices drop to twice a week.

With the safety of players a growing concern, the days of “running until you puke” are no more. Coaches must be cautious with how they handle practices. And with high temperatures, coaches are adjusting to do what’s best for the players.

“We just practice smart and want to take care of the boys,” Wateland said.