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Water, breaks and limits: Miami-Dade schools will enforce temperature protocols for athletes

Football players at Cedar Grove High School in DeKalb County start practice in late July without pads to give them an acclimatization period to get used to the heat. This is a statewide rule from the Georgia High School Association.
Matthew Pearson

Amid multiple excessive heat warnings, the district is emphasizing heat protocols for athletes and students who do activities outside.

Amid the scorching conditions of a record-breaking summer in South Florida, Miami-Dade Public Schools staff will be keeping an eye on athletes in order to enforce heat protocols in the new school year.

The district follows guidelines from the Zachary Martin Act, a 2020 bill that requires schools to monitor heat stress and modify athletic activities based on heat stress guidelines. Schools must also have an emergency action plan with a procedure for onsite cooling in case a student experiences a heat-related illness.

The act was created after high school football player Zachary Martin collapsed of heatstroke after running sprints at practice on a hot summer day in Southwest Florida. Martin, 16, died 11 days later.

Athletic trainer Angel Picart said South Miami Senior High School uses guidelines from the bill to determine if practice will be outside, how long it will be and how many water breaks the team should be taking.

"There are days where the heat index is way too high where we have to practice inside or outside in a different area that has more shade," Picart said.

The staff use the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature to measure heat stress. It takes into account the temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover.

For MDCPS students and athletes taking part in activities outdoors, the procedure is:

  • When the temperature reading is less than 82 degrees, normal activities are allowed.
  • If it is between 82.1 and 87, there must be three separate four-minute breaks per hour of activity.
  • Between 87.1 and 90, the maximum time for the activity is two hours, there must be four rest breaks per hour and football players are restricted to helmet and shoulder pads and shorts during practice.
  • Between 90.1 and 92, the maximum activity time is one hour with five breaks per hour. No protective equipment and no conditioning activities are allowed.
  • When the temperature reaches over 92.1, no outdoor activities are permitted.

The Zachary Martin Act requires an automated external defibrillator and an employee or volunteer who knows how to use it to be present at each athletic event. Athletic coaches and staff must also complete a training to know how to identify heat illness and how to respond.

Cooling stations and alerts

At South Miami Senior High, Picart said she has student trainers who help bring water to the players when they’re practicing. “We’re always making sure if they’re asking for water, we’re giving them water," she said.

"I do the cooling stations with cold towels and hydration," she added. "I always make sure I have an emergency kit ready to go in case anything happens."

Superintendent Jose Dotres addressed heat concerns at his Opening of Schools ceremony earlier this month.

“All hands on deck on the weather,” he said. “We want to make sure that we do not have students outside dealing with heat issues.”

He also said air conditioning in the schools were tested earlier to ensure they are working properly, explaining that there is an alert system if any issues come up with the system during the school year.

The emphasis on heat protocol comes after multiple excessive heat warnings were issued with South Florida throughout the summer. The warnings are issued when the heat index is expected to remain at 110 degrees or higher.

The first ever excessive heat warning for Miami was issued on July 16 by the National Weather Service. On Aug. 8 Miami-Dade, Broward and the Keys were all under the warning simultaneously for the first time.

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Alexa Herrera