John Parker Epps and his younger brother Christopher attended Johnson City’s youth football camp for the second year this week, running back and forth across the field, catching the ball and learning proper techniques.
Neither of them were tired at the end of the three-hour daily camp and, in fact, looked forward to coming back each day, despite a heat index near 100 degrees most of the week.
“I want to be better at football, get down the fundamentals and stuff,” John Parker said during camp at Science Hill High School’s football field Wednesday. “It’s a fun game. It’s a contact sport, and I like to get down and dirty.”
“And I want to learn how to get better at it and hopefully get on Science Hill’s team sometime,” Christopher said. “Defense is what I like to do, and just hit as hard as you can. It just really makes all the energy come out of you.”
Excessive heat can also make the energy come out of you, but in a bad way. The heat index Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for the area was near 100 degrees.
Though the Epps brothers were not affected by the heat Wednesday, organizers were making sure it stayed that way.
Bart Lyon, Johnson City Parks and Recreation recreation supervisor, was managing the camp, the 12th annual Parks and Recreation football camp for kids ages 6-12. The camp is from 9 a.m. until noon each day this week.
“We want to give them a good taste of football and have them enjoy themselves,” Lyon said. “Hopefully they’ll play youth football for the Junior Toppers and maybe even middle school and maybe even one day play high school football.
“We take plenty of water breaks,” Lyon said. “I know that in our three-hour camp we have six water breaks scheduled in our itinerary every day. We’ve got some shade area if we have a kid that’s not feeling well, we’ll put them over in the shade. We got some ice on hand.”
Keith Turner, athletic director for Johnson City Schools, said the system follows the guidelines for heat indexes set forth a few years ago by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA).
The TSSAA policy states that all outdoor activity must cease when the heat index is in excess of 104 degrees. If the heat index is at 95-99 degrees, schools are encouraged to reduce the time athletes spend outdoors or to move to an air-conditioned building if possible. It is also suggested that practice be moved to later in the day if possible.
In every situation ample water is to be provided and mandatory water breaks are required every 30 minutes for heat indexes above 95 degrees.
The TSSAA policy is available on its website at tssaa.org.
“So we follow that, but even before that most coaches, you know, had the sense enough to make sure kids got plenty of water and rest, but this heat index policy has specific guidelines to what we have to go by,” Turner said.
Following the guidelines is the responsibility of the two trainers the school system has on staff. These employees have equipment that can check the heat index, Turner said.
Science Hill’s volleyball team was practicing indoors Wednesday, but there was no air conditioning. To remedy that, huge fans were placed in doorways to keep some breeze circulating. Additionally, the school’s girl’s soccer team planned to delay Wednesday evening’s practice from 5 until 7 to hopefully avoid the hotter part of the day.
But it is not just school athletes who adhere to the policy. The SHHS Hilltoppers Band often practices outside and, in fact, many band members were out this week practicing their instruments and marches.
“What we’ve decided to do as a school system is, even though the band is not part of the TSSAA, they still follow that heat index policy, because that’s what’s safe for kids, and that was an easy decision to make.”
Several hundred kids play sports in the school system each year, which is a lot of children to account for as they play sports. Turner said the staff does a good job of checking the heat index and ensuring student athletes are well hydrated and rested during hot weather.
“Fortunately we haven’t had any incidents like there has been throughout the country (with heat stroke or heat exhaustion) and that’s why you have this policy, to prevent something tragic from happening,” Turner said.