At Valdosta High School, about 20 miles above the Georgia- Florida line, heat indexes regularly climb above 110 degrees during the summer. With football camp under way, coaches and trainers use player-sized refrigerated tubs and coolers loaded with sports drinks to keep their players cool.
"They're there in the heat of the day," said Kevin Weldon, VHS sports information director. "And it's getting hot. We took two to the hospital yesterday."
That's where the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) index can help. The index is usually used as a guide to help prevent heat stroke while at work or during physical exercise, says www.georgiaweather.net. The Web site was developed by Gerrit Hoogenboom, a professor in the University of Georgia Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.
"It gives us a measure of the environment to assist us in determining practice guidelines and parameters for athletes," said UGA exercise science professor Mike Ferrara.
Ferrara and fellow athletic trainers monitor the numbers closely for sports such as football and soccer. The WBGT index is mostly a medical staff issue, he said.
"Our athletic training staff will work with coaches," he said. "Everyone is concerned about the players' safety."
"We collect data," Hoogenboom said of his part in the WBGT index. "We ask how we can make this useful to people on the streets. ... I'm especially interested in practical applications and use."
High school football coaches aren't the only ones interested in keeping their people healthy. Hoogenboom's department was "even contacted by the Army," he said. "One of the bases in Atlanta wanted to link to our Web site. They're extremely concerned about the soldiers."
The index was used during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Getting the word out about the system is something Hoogenboom hopes to do. "We were asked by (UGA head athletic trainer) Ron Courson to implement this on our Web page," he said. "They're trying to promote the use of this."
Using the WBGT
The index, at www.georgiaweather.net, takes a little digging to find. Here's how.
On the home page is a map of Georgia with more than 60 cities pinpointed with red dots. Clicking on a certain town opens a new page. Clicking on current conditions for Valdosta about 3 p.m. Thursday revealed that the temperature was 95.7 degrees. The WBGT Index, a few lines below, was at 93 degrees. Clicking the WBGT Index link reveals that at 90 degrees or above, "physical training and strenuous exercise should be discontinued for all persons."
With football season approaching, this isn't likely to happen. What does happen is "if the WBGT index is above a certain level, we'll increase the number of breaks and take longer breaks," Ferrara said.
In Valdosta, "any time a player feels he is too hot, the trainer examines them," Weldon said. "We keep Powerade with the players at all times."
Macon's Stratford Academy, which claimed the Georgia Independent School Association AAA state football crown last year, takes summer temperatures seriously, too.
"We're practicing in mornings," head football coach Mark Farriba said. "We don't go out after 11:30 a.m. We tell the players they can get water anytime they need it. We talk to them constantly, making sure they're drinking the right stuff," which, for Stratford, is Gatorade.
"I don't remember the last time it's been this hot out there," Farriba said. "I come off the field and I've got sweat dripping off clothes."
And Farriba's not even running wind sprints.
(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)
Members of the Valdosta High School football team are shown practicing during the peak of a Georgia summer.Download Image