Photo by Diane Cox
Roxana junior girls’ tennis player Anna Ballard takes a break to dry off and hydrate during her match Monday against Courtney Ulmer of Vandalia. Ulmer had to withdrawal from competition because of the heat.
Soaring temperatures are nothing to take lightly, especially when dealing with athletics and prep athletics in particular.
The heat put a damper on the beginning of the week for high school sports. Monday saw boys’ soccer games canceled for Alton and Marquette Catholic, while Tuesday brought cancellations for the other three River Bend area schools, Civic Memorial, East Alton-Wood River and Roxana, on the pitch.
But local athletic directors are quick to point out it has to be a safety first attitude.
“There are some tough decisions that come about when the temperatures are high and heat indexes are even higher,” Roxana athletic director Chad Ambuehl said. “When making decisions, we’re always putting safety first with the kids. We’re always looking at the heat indexes to make sure we’re making the safe decision for all people involved, not just our athletes, but also our fans and coaches.”
Monday marked the first day the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) regulations allowed for boys’ soccer, girls’ tennis and volleyball seasons to get under way. The golf season began last week and football kicks off tonight in Illinois. Cross country also begins this week.
Alton athletic director Jeff Alderman is also the head football coach for the Redbirds, so while keeping a handle on all the sports at AHS during this sizzling heat, he especially has got an eye on the gridiron.
“(Monday) night we came back at 6 p.m. and went helmets and shoulder pads only, which gives them a little bit of relief,” Alderman said. “We’re fortunate enough that by 6 in the evening most of our practice field is in the shade. You’ve got to constantly monitor it with football and all the gear, so that’s always a concern.
“Our athletic trainer, Andy Renner, does a good job of keeping us posted on the up to date heat index. He’s got a device where he can measure that on the spot. We pay attention. We certainly don’t want to be losing anybody to any type of heat exhaustion.”
Alderman applauded the Southwestern Conference, which includes a league rule that if the heat index reaches 105, events automatically are canceled. Unfortunately, that is not an adopted rule of the IHSA.
“I applaud the athletic trainers in the Southwestern Conference,” Alderman said. “I think they’ve done a good job. They’re kind of on the forefront on the Illinois side. I think in time it will be adopted as a bylaw by the IHSA.”
The Mississippi Valley, Prairie State and South Central Conferences remain on a school-by-school basis for decisions on the heat, but that’s not to say the decisions aren’t carefully planned out.
“At this point in the South Central Conference we are all doing our own heat advisories, but we have had talks about eventually coming together and coming up with something,” Ambuehl said. “We are in constant communication between the ADs to see what they’re doing and what other schools are doing to make the best decision.”
The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHAA) has a statewide policy on heat, but Alderman said geographical layout for Illinois plays a factor in why this issue hasn’t been addressed statewide in the Land of Lincoln.
“The thing about the state of Illinois, when you look at where it runs geographically, maybe only half the state is affected by such extreme heat indexes,” Alderman said. “Tuesday our golf team was up at the Normal University High Invite and they were in the lower 90s and battling thunderstorms. I think that’s a big reason for it, the geographical outlay of Illinois.”
With highs only said to reach 91 in the area tonight, the opening night of football seems to be safe. Plans are in place for the players’ safety though, with extra water breaks, fans on the sidelines and the possibility of pushing back kickoff times if it’s too hot.
So try and stay cool tonight at area games, as Alton plays host to Pekin, Marquette visits CM, EA-WR welcomes Columbia and the Shells start SCC play at Carlinville. All games are set to kick off at 7 p.m.