During the Chancellor Invitational cross country meet last September, a runner suffered a heat stroke and the three athletic trainers on site immediately vaulted into the “taco method.”
They carried an 8x10-foot tarp around just in case of a heat-related emergency. They folded the tarp like a taco, placed the athlete in it, and, with help from others, dumped water and ice in the tarp to cool down the runner until the rescue squad arrived.
Spotsylvania County athletic trainers no longer have to rely strictly on that old-fashioned operation to assist athletes in the future.
All five county schools—Chancellor, Courtland, Massaponax, Riverbend and Spotsylvania—are now equipped with a Polar Life Pod that the county purchased for approximately $400 apiece.
“It gives us instant access to be able to cool down our student-athletes,” Courtland athletic director Ronnie Lowman said. “It’s the best method out there right now.”
The Polar Life Pod is an on-demand water immersion device that can be set up quickly. It can hold individuals up to 7 feet tall and 400 pounds. It quickly cools athletes, who can be transported on a gurney while still zipped up.
As high school football practice gets under way in the Fredericksburg area this week, Spotsylvania’s trainers said they’re hopeful they won’t have to use them but they’re thankful to have the equipment available during the intense summer heat.
“Kids are dying from heat strokes so this has been big in the public’s eyes,” Chancellor athletic trainer Lane Catlett said. “With the recent heat wave we had with the heat index around 110, 115, it’s good that we have something better to cover our student-athletes as well as cover the schools.”
Massaponax veteran trainer Christy Carlson said the “taco method” was effective, but she’s thrilled to be able to cool down an athlete more quickly before they have to be transported to the emergency room. She said it makes a huge difference if the athlete has already cooled off significantly before paramedics arrive.
Stafford County isn’t doing anything drastically different to combat the heat this school year, Mountain View athletic director Greg Margheim said.
Margheim said the county’s five high schools will have more evening practices from 6-8:30 p.m., especially with school starting in mid-August instead of September.
Margheim noted the county uses the Wet Bulb Temperature method to determine when to continue outdoor participation. The WBT is a temperature read by a thermometer covered in a water-soaked cloth over which air is passed. If one county school reaches 82 degrees, every school’s activities are stopped.
Athletic directors at Caroline, James Monroe and King George said they follow Virginia High School League guidelines and haven’t made any policy changes. The VHSL has a heat and hydration chart that determines whether it’s safe to continue practicing or playing a game.
If the heat index reaches 95 or above, all pads have to come off. At 105 or above, all outside activities are halted. The VHSL also calls for plenty of hydration opportunities and for coaches and trainers to be able to recognize the signs of heat distress.
Spotsylvania County uses the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, which is different from the formula used by Stafford because it estimates the effects of temperature, humidity, wind speed and visible infrared radiation (usually sunlight) on humans. The cutoff to halt participation is 90 degrees using the WBGT.
The five Spotsylvania athletic trainers decided to be proactive about a solution to heat illnesses in meetings earlier this year with the county’s central office staff concerning concussion protocol and other concerns.
An average of three football players per year have died from heat-related causes since 1995, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury research.
The concerns hit close to home in August 2006 when Stafford High offensive lineman Joey Roberson died of hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when the body becomes dangerously overheated.
The Korey Stringer Institute recommends that every high school be equipped with water coolers and heat stress monitors to save lives. Stringer, a former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman, died after suffering a heat stroke at practice in 2001.
Heat stroke can occur anywhere, but researchers intently warn those in the East and Southeast of the possibility because of sweltering heat and high humidity.
In addition to the Polar Life Pod purchases, Spotsylvania has also equipped its high school trainers with a 300-gallon water trough and a Kestrel weather meter. The county’s trainers plan to push for rectal thermometers in the future.
Lowman said the Kestrel is imperative because it calculates heat index and other weather conditions in exact locations rather than a certain radius.
“It lets you know the safest specific area that you can participate,” Lowman said.
The Spotsylvania ATs follow the latest trends with the National Athletic Trainers Association and report their findings to Keith Wolfe, the county’s executive director for secondary education and leadership. They said they’re thankful the county has heeded their concerns and furnished them with the tools needed to potentially save lives. The chances of an athlete surviving a heatstroke increase tremendously if they’re placed in a cooler or a device like the Polar Life Pod within 10 minutes of the event.
Carlson said the Spotsylvania trainers plan to have all five pods on hand at the next Chancellor Invitational.
“It’s definitely a huge awareness with heat illness and heat stroke and we’ve been focusing on it a lot,” Carlson said. “So we’re very excited [about the pods]. They’re in a bag kind of like a lawn chair bag that folds up and we can carry it everywhere and have right there on the sidelines. It’s perfect.”