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Mark Schoenfelder

A water-spraying machine helps cool athletes, according to trainer Mark Schoenfelder. Here he's with one at Elwood Olsen stadium, home to many Siouxland football games.

When temperatures climb into the high 90s during the summer, most go where it's cool.

But what about athletes who need to practice outside?

According to a Siouxland athletic trainer, that's when they need to take particular care.

“Extreme heat affects football players in the fact that players wear lots of padding,” said Mark Schoenfelder, an athletic trainer at South Sioux High School and CNOS Foundation employee. “We have a helmet on, shoulder pads, pads on our legs…these all add extra clothing and weight to us. Those items also make it so the players can’t dissipate the heat as well. For our bodies to cool down, we sweat, and the sweat evaporates, but for football players, that doesn’t happen. The heat is trapped within the layers of extra clothing."

That's when trainers take particular notice.

"Most of the time during football practice, there is no shade," Schoenfelder said. "The players are in direct sunlight for hours, and that causes us concern.”

Aug. 11, at media day for Siouxland’s high school football teams, hundreds of players lined up with their respective teams to have their head shots taken and to be interviewed by the media. It was hot and sticky outside, with little shade from the relentless August sun -- a preview of coming attractions.

On the field, they've also got helmets, padding and opponents.

While improved equipment has helped protect players, there's still the matter of heat.

A number of the players said they've taken proper measures to stay safe.

2018 West Football Micah McWell

Micah McWell

“I’ve never had a concussion or heat-exhaustion,” said Micah McWell of West High School. “I’ve seen it happen to a teammate, but dizziness is all I noticed.”

2018 South Sioux Football Luis Quezada

Quezada

“It hasn’t happened to me,” said Luis Quezada of South Sioux High School. “But there have been teammates who have had issues.”

When it comes to heat, many states have required mandatory cooling tubs and/or heat-stress monitors. Iowa has no such rules governing the teams to keep the players safer.

Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur Northeast football practice

Members of the Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur Northeast football team gather around a water station during a water break at practice Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Bancroft, Nebraska. Temperatures during the practice hovered in the high 80s. 

“We’ve gotten a lot smarter in recent years,” said Schoenfelder. “If you watch ‘Remember the Titans,’ there is a scene where they say, ‘We’re not going to have water until Blue isn’t thirsty anymore.’ Well, we’ve quit doing that. Needing water is not a sign of weakness; the player should go get a drink. We’re smarter now, understanding that when the relative humidity is 60 percent and the temperature feels like it’s above 90 degrees, we need to start modifying our activity. We’ve cut down the ‘macho-ness’ of what football used to be. Back in the day, water breaks were never heard of. Let’s be honest: If the players aren’t healthy, they aren’t playing well, and if they aren’t playing well, they aren’t winning.”

Does size matter?

“It’s not necessarily the big guys we are always looking out for,” said Schoenfelder. “It’s the little guy who’s doing everything. The guys that are playing both offense and defense are the guys we worry about. They are constantly on the field, and rarely get to take a break. Yes, we are looking out for the larger guys, but they usually have a chance to get off the field. The key is keeping the players hydrated.”

Concussions are sometimes hard to spot, but Schoenfelder explained some of the signs to look out for while on the field.

“A lot of times a teammate will come up and say so-and-so is not acting well, or not acting like themselves,” said the CNOS employee. “Sometimes the player will tell you he just took a hit or that his head hurts or he feels dizzy, nauseous or disoriented. Those are some of the big tells.”

Protective sports equipment has gotten better over the years, but it still isn’t foolproof. According to Prevacus Statistics, high school football is shown to be the sport with the greatest amount of concussions, about 6.4 in every 10,000 players. Each year in the United States, 64,000 players are diagnosed with concussions.

“Helmets have gotten better over the years, they are more impact resistant, but they are only designed to prevent skull fractures,” said Schoenfelder. “Even the warning on the back says they won’t prevent concussions. When I first started as a trainer, when your head got hit, but the headache went away within 15 minutes, we let you go back into the game. Nowadays, we have realized that is not right. We need to hold you out at least 24 hours, see where you are at and determine when you can go back in after being cleared by a medical professional.”

A smarter way of playing has begun.

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