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Plum, Gateway, neighboring football teams continue to try and beat the heat

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader
Members of the Plum High School football team go through a drill for agility and conditioning durig a morning practice July 22, 2013, at Mustangs Stadium. Plum, along with every other PIAA team, will conduct a three-day heat acclimatization program before ramping up preseason camp.
Michael Love | The Times Express
Gateway senior linemen Stephen Gross, left, and Joe Robak work through a blocking drill during a summer workout on July 22, 2013. Gateway, along with every other PIAA team, will conduct a three-day heat-acclimatization program before ramping up preseason camp.

Summer sizzled last week with high temperatures in the low 90s and humidity adding to the uncomfortable conditions.

Area high school football coaches, while continuing to get their teams prepared with Xs and Os strategy on the field, also were mindful of the heat and took steps to make sure their players benefitted from the on-the-field sessions without being adversely affected by the conditions.

Preseason football camps open Aug. 12, and before the fun begins, area teams, including Plum and Gateway, will follow a new PIAA-established three-day heat acclimatization process.

“I think it is beneficial, and all the coaches understand what the PIAA wants to do with this,” new Gateway head coach Donnie Militzer said.

“Everyone takes the safety of the kids seriously.”

Militzer saw this process work at the collegiate level for several seasons, most recently for two years as an assistant coach at Washington & Jefferson.

“You would have a day with helmets and shorts and you would work your way up to contact. The (high school) process is following a college model.”

The PIAA Board of Directors approved the heat acclimatization program for football in March.

A day before the Board of Directors vote, the PIAA football steering committee voted to approve the program with an added option.

Schools have the option to complete the three-day process the week prior to the official start of camps on Aug. 12 or wait to do it over the first three days of camp.

Many of the WPIAL schools, including Plum, under new head coach Matt Morgan, and Gateway, will conduct the program Wednesday through Friday, Aug. 7 to 9.

“If you start that process the first day of camp, you don't hit until Thursday and you have a scrimmage two days later,” Militzer said.

“That's where some confusion was initially. When the PIAA gave us that option of the week before, it cleared a lot of that up.”

The program consists of helmets and shoulder pads with shorts the first two days and full gear on the third day with no contact.

The total time for each day is limited to five hours, and no one practice session is permitted to run longer than three hours.

Teams must have two hours of a rest-recovery period if there is more than one practice session on any of the three days of the program.

Morgan said that after a full summer of workouts, he would be more inclined to give his players and coaches a couple of days off before the start of official preseason camp practices to get them mentally and physically ready.

“It still will be good because you will have a few more practices to work on some things,” he said.

“We've gone hard all summer with workouts, 7-on-7s and work in the weight room, but nothing gets you into football shape for the season like putting the pads on, hitting and running the plays. It's a whole different kind of shape.

“I understand the program and that you don't get thrown into pads right away. You are able to build your way up.”

PIAA Executive Director Bob Lombardi was pleased when the vote approved the program.

“The board and all the committees involved in this, the football steering committee, athletic directors, sports medicine and football coaches association, did a great job of carving out a process that puts athletes safety first,” Lombardi said shortly after the program was approved.

Morgan, Militzer and the rest of the PIAA football coaches were required to come up with a heat acclimatization proposal and submit it to the school principal for approval.

“It's going to be a little bit of a work in progress, but I think it's important we address heat,” Lombardi said.

All players must go through the three-day process before they represent their school by playing in a scrimmage or a contest.

The program now is on the PIAA books, and, several coaches said, it is just another step in a summer-long process to keep players safe in the heated conditions.

Several schools in Westmoreland County took part in a day-long 7-on-7 tournament last week during the stretch of heat and humidity, and it was a chance to put heat-protection strategies to work.

“We had a break between games, so we made sure they were in the shade and stayed hydrated,” Penn-Trafford head coach John Ruane said.

“We're smart about things. They know if they can't go for a minute, if they need a blow, then they tell us and we take care of it.”

According PIAA.org, as stated in its heat acclimatization guidelines on the website, 52 football players, including 41 in high school, have died since 1995 because of heat-related causes.

One of the more high-profile cases was that of Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer.

The massive 335-pound lineman collapsed from heatstroke on the second day of preseason camp before the 2001 season.

Stringer, a six-year NFL veteran with the Vikings, died at the hospital 15 hours later.

The full heat acclimatization guidelines document is online at piaa.org/news.

Click on “April 2013” on the left side of the screen, and then select “Preseason Heat-Acclimatization Guidelines.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 4120388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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