A new football season didn't kick off as expected when the first practice date rolled around Wednesday. In fact, for some Columbia County teams, practice never really started at all.
"I hate it. I had 120 kids at 3:30 with nothing to do," first-year Greenbrier coach Scott Chadwick said.
Chadwick was one of three county football coaches who fell victim to the heat index Wednesday. In past years, high school athletes were allowed to practice as long as the heat index remained below 130 degrees. A rule change by the Columbia County Board of Education this year moved the maximum heat index to 100 degrees. The change was sent to the coaches Wednesday morning, and resulted in no outdoor practices for Greenbrier, Lakeside and Harlem.
"I understand the rule. We want to do what's best for the kids," Lakeside coach Randy Hill said. "It takes one coach not to abide by the rules for something bad to happen."
Almost 90 Panther football players crammed inside the Lakeside Middle School gym for indoor workouts Wednesday afternoon. At Greenbrier, Chadwick took a similar approach and gathered his players in the cafeteria. Regularly scheduled volleyball practices kept both football teams out of their high school gyms.
At Harlem, coach Jimmie Lewis tried to beat the worst of the heat by scheduling practice at 5 p.m. When the time came, the heat index was still well into the triple digits, and Lewis was forced to send his Bulldogs home early after an indoor weight-lifting workout.
"This is what happens when you start the season so early," Lewis said. "This needs to be a wake-up call. Something's got to be done."
Two schools did get their football practices in on Wednesday, because of an early start. Augusta Christian kicked things off at 7:30 a.m. and avoided most of the heat. Evans did the same after coach Marty Jackson said he got approval from his principal to start practice at 8 a.m.
Jackson said he still planned to take the team indoors at 10:30 a.m. because of the heat.
Both Augusta Christian and Evans went through practices without any major injuries or sicknesses related to heat.
A statement released Wednesday by the Medical College of Georgia, however, warned of the risks that come with practicing in excessive heat.
"This is one of the most dangerous times of the year to be active outdoors," Bryan Jones, a certified athletic director at MCG, said in the statement. "Anyone, especially those engaged in vigorous activity such as football practice, can easily become dehydrated, which can be life-threatening."
All of the coaches said their practice schedule for at least the next two weeks will change depending on the heat index. Most coaches said the back-up plan includes moving practices to start later in the evening.
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