Hot start to fall sports season

The back-in-my-day complaints have surely been visible on Facebook feeds or audible at dinner-table conversations. They’ve probably looked (or sounded) a lot like this:

“We never got out of anything because it was too hot.”

Or maybe this:

“This world is so soft these days.”

Or maybe some variation of the two with some more colorful language, punctuating the fact that hot and humid weather was never a reason to shorten school or cancel athletic events until relatively recently.

Local athletic directors have been forced to deal with juggled practice schedules and even game postponements over the last few weeks because of unseasonably oppressive weather conditions.

Naugatuck AD Brian Mariano said that the sports-related decisions come after consultation with district administrators. Naugatuck’s elementary and intermediate schools had early dismissals five times during the first two weeks of school, and decisions to move and cancel practices at the middle and high schools were quick to follow.

“Each day, I’m communicating with my superintendent and we’re looking at the forecast and humidity,” Mariano said. “We’re looking at the line between student safety and getting practices in.”

Woodland AD Brian Fell thinks that the recent rash of heat-related schedule changes falls right in line with the modern movements to take safety measures at the hint of danger.

“I think it’s a sign of the times,” Fell said. “If you look across the board at athletics today, it’s different than it was 30 years ago. There’s a lot more caution with injuries, heat protocols, numbers of practices kids are having. We’re extra cautious these days. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it’s helping keep students safe, then it’s good. Back when we were in high school, kids were getting a lot of undiagnosed concussions and heat-related issues. Do I think sometimes it’s overkill? Probably.”

The prevention of heat-related illnesses has become a key point in Connecticut high school sports over the last decade. The CIAC adopted the Korey Stringer Heat Acclimatization Guidelines in 2013, and coaches receive training about how to prevent and recognize heat-related illnesses.

The dangers of heatstroke were brought to the forefront again earlier this year when University of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke in May.

While Mariano said he, like many others, doesn’t remember early dismissals or sports cancelations due to the heat, he recognizes that there are many factors to be considered when it comes to high temperatures and humidity.

“It seems like we have a lot of student-athletes with some type of minor or major medical conditions, and you have media coverage of what happened to the kid in Maryland,” Mariano said. “Student safety is always the biggest concern for us, so there’s a lot more attention to keeping students safe.”

All four soccer games that were scheduled to open the season last Thursday were postponed due to the heat. Woodland’s scheduled volleyball opener was also postponed from last Thursday. Those postponements followed weeks of jumbled practice schedules.

“We’re lucky to have two gyms that are air conditioned, so when we’ve had to cancel outdoor practices, everyone has at least been able to get some practice time indoors,” Mariano said.

“We didn’t lose a lot of (practice) dates, but we lost a lot of locations,” Fell said. “We’ve had to bring our outdoor teams indoors, and that hurts the volleyball team. It puts extra strain on the weight room. People have to take their turns, and the sub-varsity kids might have their practices shortened or canceled. Our coaches are very understanding, but it’s tough.”