South Medford High School football players take a water break during a practice last summer. Keeping prep athletes safe from high levels of heat has come into focus recently with the reckless homicide charge against a Kentucky high school coach following the heat-related death of one of his players. a water break from practice last summer from the left, Cody Meuser. sophomore, Jon Maiers, junior, and Marshall Adrian, junior, take a water break from practice. School hasn't started yet but the sports teams are preparing for the fall season. Pennell photo

Kentucky ordeal gains local attention

There aren't any local coaches who personally know David Jason Stinson, but they all know of the ordeal the high school football coach is facing right now in Kentucky and count themselves fortunate such a situation has never crossed their paths.

On Monday, Stinson pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide in the death of 15-year-old Max Gilpin, an offensive lineman at Pleasure Ridge Park High who collapsed after running sprints at a sweltering practice last summer and died three days later. Gilpin's death certificate shows he died of septic shock, multiple organ failure and complications from heat stroke.

"It's one of those things that you just pray that nothing like that ever comes along to one of your kids," says Crater High football coach John Beck. "That would really be a tragedy. We have such close relationships with our kids, that's like losing a member of your own family. You don't want anything remotely like that to happen."

To that degree, the Oregon School Activities Association and local coaches have gone through great lengths over the years to ensure such an issue won't occur here.

Four years ago, the OSAA implemented a fall sports practice model that requires coaches to continually determine and record the heat index in their area and follow a subsequent list of precautionary measures to ensure the safety of all involved during the hottest months of the season.

"It's mandated that coaches have an inherent responsibility to understand how the heat index can affect the kids and that when the heat index goes up, the danger levels go up," says Brad Garrett, assistant executive director of the OSAA. "One death from a heat-related illness is one death too many."

Fall sports coaches are required to designate someone within their program to utilize the heat index calculator located on the OSAA's Web site ( within one hour of practice time to determine the heat index, which is a calculation involving temperature and humidity in the area.

That index number must then be recorded every day on a special sheet, with practice modifications becoming increasingly necessary once the heat index reaches 95. Each team's sheet is submitted to the athletic director and must be made available at any time upon request by the OSAA.

"We have to check that every day before practice and it's very clear," says North Medford High football coach Jeff Olson of the OSAA safeguards. "We're fortunate we don't have that type of environment like they have in the South or the Midwest. We don't have the kind of humidity other areas have, but it's always a good idea to know what the heat index is."

As an example, a 95-degree day with 30 percent humidity carries a heat index of 94. Maintaining that same humidity level but increasing the temperature by only 3 degrees pushes the heat index to 99. A 95-degree day with 33 percent humidity puts the heat index at 96.

A heat index of 100 to 104 requires considerable measures to be taken to ensure safety, and the OSAA recommends that all outside activity be stopped at 104 or above.

Although it's a process used predominantly at the high school level, the OSAA's heat index calculator is available for use by coaches at any level during the summer months to help dictate practice plans.

"I don't think it's a bad thing at all," Beck says of the increased paperwork involved with recording the heat index. "I think it just helps make you more aware, and the more we can do to make it better for kids, the better it is. We're trying to get kids to like football, not hate it. Heck, the coaches don't want to be out in that heat, either."

Beyond the specific requirements for each heat index range outlined in the OSAA's fall sports model, local coaches say using common sense is the simplest measure they use to ensure safety.

Olson says the days of practicing underneath the afternoon sun are gone, having been replaced by two-hour sessions early in the morning and two-hour sessions later in the evening.

"I used to do the traditional 8 o'clock and 3 o'clock kind of deal," says Olson of his coaching days prior to 1999, "but 3 o'clock in the afternoon in Medford, Oregon, it's still pretty hot and the kids are gassed. We moved our second practice to 6 o'clock and that's one of the best changes we ever made. Splitting the practices up gives kids plenty of time to rest and recover, and after doing that routine we found out that we're coming out of two-a-days healthier and with more energy than we were before."

Both coaches agree that an important part of lowering the risk of heat-related issues is in keeping players well-hydrated and ensuring the lines of communication remain open regardless of the situation.

"We've had kids that didn't feel good but we communicate that way ahead of time so it doesn't go too far," says Beck. "If you want to take a water break, take a water break. All we ask is just hustle back in line. We even have some kids bring water jugs out on the field. Heck, I don't care. I want the kids hydrated because it's safer and because they perform better when they're hydrated."

Beck says today's coaching philosophies are far from the old-school days of denying water or handing out salt tablets as a remedy. Although Beck admits to not knowing all the facts and doesn't want to rush to judgment on Stinson, witness accounts stating that the coach was running his players hard — sometimes in pads and helmet — telling them they would do "gassers," or sprints up and down the field, until someone quit raises some obvious concerns.

"Reading between the lines, it sounds like he was kinda old-school, 'I'm going to run you until you drop," and over-conditioned kids," says Beck. "I don't know a coach around here that believes in that kind of stuff. I know Bill (Singler at South Medford) doesn't do it. Ollie, Charlie (Hall at Ashland), me, (John) Musser (at Grants Pass) ... none of us guys would ever do anything like that."

Other factors to come out in recent days regarding Gilpin's death also include statement's by his mother that the 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore had taken the dietary supplement Creatine up until practices began in July, roughly one month before his collapse. It was also on Gilpin's athlete information form that he had been taking the stimulant Adderall, which is prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Given all the factors in the Kentucky case, and the fact that practice temperatures felt like 94 degrees, Olson says coaches have had to become more diligent in closely observing their players in order to be in tune with even the slightest of signals.

"Part of the responsibility of a coach is to monitor kids and if you see a kid in trouble, you've got to deal with the situations," says Olson, who prefers having his players run without any gear on. "You've really got to watch how they're handling themselves during practice and watch their body language. There's a fine line if a kid is cruising or having trouble, and you've got to be very, very conscientious of how you handle that. You've got to have a lot of eyes out there."

Beck agrees.

"X's and O's is like 5 percent of what we have to worry about these days as a coach," he says. "You've got the welfare of 100-some kids in your community resting in your hands and you've got to keep them safe. That's your first job."

Gilpin is one of 33 high school, college or professional athletes to die of heat-related injuries since 1995, but Stinson is believed to be the first coach to face criminal charges. If convicted, Stinson could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

According to depositions, a moaning Gilpin was treated with water and ice packs after his collapse but he was unable to communicate with those responding. Authorities said his body temperature was 107 degrees when he reached the hospital.

Stinson also serves as a deacon at his Louisville, Ky., church, and the first-year head coach has received an outpouring of support from several community members.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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