The Florida High School Athletic Association may get what it asked for after reiterating Tuesday that it will only mandate basic life-saving equipment in case of heat stroke if told to do so by lawmakers.
Florida Sen. Kathleen Passidomo of Naples said she’ll begin working on legislation to mandate access to ice tubs in cases of heat stroke after the state agency voted not to require the standard equipment or special thermometers that measure heat stress.
“I’m going to sit down over the summer and see if I can work with the association so that we can craft a bill that works for everyone and accomplishes our goal of making sure students aren’t going to die from heat stroke,” Passidomo said. “It’s important that we work together.”
Passidomo may already have legislative help.
Robert Sefcik, a member of the FHSAA’s 15-person Sports Medicine Advisory Committee that first recommended in late January that the state agency mandate the safety items, said two other state senators also support mandating the equipment.
“We’re going to continue fighting,” said Sefcik, executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program. “I do feel we are more aligned than we were previously.”
Despite medical and public ridicule that has reached beyond state borders, the FHSAA held to its previous position at Tuesday’s board of directors meeting in Gainesville.
It voted, although not unanimously, only to “strongly recommend” the use of what are known as wet-bulb globe thermometers and ice tubs, which are already widely used for exercise recovery reasons.
After the board delayed its first vote in late April, FHSAA leadership reiterated Tuesday its original lines of thinking: that a mandate might expose the agency to greater legal liability, and that such a mandate is the domain of the state Legislature.
“It’s really a failure of responsibility,” said Douglas Casa, head of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut and one of the nation’s foremost authorities on exertional heat stroke.
“How many deaths do we still have to have? The most ludicrous thing in the world is that a school can support the cost of all the things to have an athletic program. But we’re not going to make the suggestion that they should have an immersion tub if a person should happen to have heat stroke in Florida in August playing in football gear?”
Florida leads the nation in deaths of high school athletes from exertional heat stroke, according to the Stringer Institute, named for the late NFL offensive lineman killed by heat stroke in 2001.
Nationwide, an average of three football players die every year from heat stroke at all age levels, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
That’s despite a “100 percent” survival rate when a person suffering heat stroke – the most severe heat illness, when core temperatures hit 104 degrees – is immersed in cold water within 5-10 minutes.
Outgoing FHSAA board president Frank Prendergast, athletic director at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, and FHSAA staff attorney Leonard Ireland spoke along similar lines from past meetings.
They have questioned how the FHSAA would enforce usage, wondered about costs and implementation for overburdended coaches and administrators and argued that a mandate would be akin to expecting coaches to serve as medical personnel.
But Casa and others cited the FHSAA’s reason for existence – overseeing high school sports – and the many safety and medical rules and training the agency already requires without any legislative mandate.
In late April in fact, the FHSAA mandated that 30-minute online courses on heat safety education be added to other instructional requirements in place for coaches and athletes, such as on concussions.
“The coaches are always going to be the first line of first-aid defense when there’s not an athletic trainer there,” said Casa, pointing to cardiac arrest or other medical events.
“The adult there is always the responsible party. I completely disagree that heat stroke is something a coach would not get involved with but a cardiac event they would.
“The bottom line is (Florida) eventually is going to get this, whether through legislation or a rash of deaths, and they approve it under pressure. Hopefully we don’t lose more kids this summer.”
Laurie Martin Giordano, whose son, Zach Martin Polsenberg, died of heat stroke after collapsing at Riverdale High School football practice almost a year ago, said she still has not gotten an answer on how enforcing heat stroke policies would be any different from enforcing countless other FHSAA policies.
“Why wouldn’t this be policed the same way the others are?” said Martin Giordano, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “The manual is over 100 pages long. How do they police all that? They don’t go to each school and talk to each coach.
Left completely untouched by the FHSAA in all of this is that almost none of its policies apply outside the school year, meaning there is no heat safety coverage in the summer.
The medical advisory committee in late January also recommended that the FHSAA apply its heat safety policies to summer months, which are left almost entirely in the hands of individual schools and districts.
“We know the primary months for heat stroke, especially in our region, are July, August and September,” Sefcik said. “That’s something we’re going to continue to be aggressive with and work together with the board and make sure that comes up with their language.”