Kansas implements new rules to keep high school athletes safe in summer heat

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Monday is the first day Kansas high school athletes can officially start practicing, and there are new rules in place to keep them safe in this summer heat.

With a sport like football or soccer, you think of those big hits and headers as to how kids get hurt on the field. But this time of year, the top culprit for injuries is actually the heat.

The Blue Valley North Mustangs are ready to defend their 6A state football championship title.

"I'm excited. Lot of guys I've been playing with my whole life. Just one last go around with it," Blue Valley North quarterback Graham Mertz said.

Mertz has been spending a lot of his summer in the weight room to get ready for the first official practice day on the field -- and that first day back came with 90-plus degree heat.

"A day like today is concerning to us because student safety in Blue Valley is our number one priority above all else," said Lane Green, Blue Valley athletic and activities director.

For two years, the Kansas State High School Activities Association has been studying ways to keep athletes safe from the sweltering sun. Heat illness is most common in the state in the first week of outdoor practices.

"You've got to hydrate. I learned my lesson last year at the Miege game actually. Now it's just Pedialyte, Gatorade, water. All the time, you hydrate," Mertz said.

Now, Kansas limits practices to three hours total. Teams are also restricted to no back-to-back two-a-day practices.

At Blue Valley, coaches also make athletes take frequent water breaks. They even keep towels in icy water for quick cool downs, and there's an ice water tub on standby if an athlete gets overheated.

"Athletes by nature want to please their coaches. They want to have kind of that suck-it-up mentality. And that's why it's up to us as athletic personnel and our coaches to keep a real careful eye on all our athletes to make sure they're staying safe," Green said.

For the first couple days, football players are limited to helmets only, working up gradually to full gear and pads.

All the precautions are designed to help their bodies get used to the heat. And if the mercury rises to triple digits, the district bans practice on the turf and restricts practices to under 90 minutes.

"It's nice for just getting in the work you need to get in and not just overdoing it," Mertz said.

Missouri has similar limits on practices times and restricting frequency of two-a-day practices, and the heat rules aren't just for athletes. They also apply to other school activities outside like marching band.