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Football coaches tackle heat

A famous story about legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, when he was the head football coach at Texas A&M, recounts a 10-day football camp in the oppressive Texas summer heat. The story has taken on mythological status and was immortalized in a movie. The “survivors” of this became known as the Junction Boys. They were known for their mental toughness under grueling circumstances.

Many high school football coaches glommed onto that story and tried to replicate it in their own programs through the years in different ways. Surviving the August summer heat became a rite of passage and test of mental toughness for high school and college football teams.

While conquering the heat is still part of practicing football, the Alabama High School Athletic Association has guidelines in place for dealing with extreme heat.

This week the heat index, a combination of the temperature and humidity levels, has reached dangerous levels, approaching 105-110 degrees. Local coaches have plans in place to keep their players safe.

“Our normal practice schedule is to have a five-minute break every 15-20 minutes,” said Russellville coach John Ritter. “Our kids have the opportunity to drink water between reps and during teaching periods when they feel like they need it.

“Our coaches do a great job of watching their position players and allow kids to hydrate often,” Ritter added.  “We have tents set up for some shade and adjust breaks according to our kids’ body language. We always have ice tubes on hand just in case of emergency.

This week, with the forecasted heat warnings, Ritter said RHS added misting fans and extra tents to help student-athletes regulate their body temperatures during breaks.

RHS isn’t the only school keeping an eye on the temperature as the heat rises.

“Some precautions we would take are more water breaks, less practice time, more indoor workouts and practicing without pads,” said Red Bay coach Michael Jackson. “When the heat index is between 95-102, we will have a modified practice with no conditioning in pads or helmets .. At 103 or higher we would have very limited outside activities – limited to less than one hour.”

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