High school athletic directors will watch out for their athletes on Tuesday — by watching temperature heat indexes.
A record-setting, late September heat wave has meant football, soccer, field hockey, tennis and volleyball players — along with cross country runners and golfers — could be sidelined in extremely warm conditions.
The rules are the reason. According to heat index procedures adopted by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, whenever the heat index — not the temperature, but what the temperature actually feels like — is 96 degrees or more, practices and games must be canceled.
"No outside activity, practice or contest should be held," the association says. "Inside activity should only be held if air conditioned."
Monday was the second record-breaking day in a row for heat. Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Albany said the temperature hit 91 at 3:53 p.m., surpassing the previous high of 89 degrees set on Sept. 25, 1970.
On Sunday, the 90-degree high beat the previous record set Sept. 24, 1961, when the temperature hit 87.
John Bowen, athletic director at Schuylerville High School and also the school's football coach, said his team practiced Monday afternoon with helmets only. On Tuesday, the team will practice at 7 p.m., under the school's field lights.
"It is a little more of a transportation inconvenience," Bowen said, adding that boys on the team will have to go home, do homework and then return to school. "It's going to be a full-gear practice unless the heat doesn't let us do that. It's been dropping pretty quickly right around 7, we've been noticing."
For much of Monday's late afternoon, the temperature hovered around 90 degrees, with a heat index of 93.
That was still warm enough to keep Bowen hustling around school grounds in an attempt to make Schuylerville's gym a little cooler for Monday's Schuylerville girls' volleyball game against Hartford.
"We do not have air conditioning in our gym, so they're under the same outside parameters," Bowen said of the players. "We're getting all the industrial fans we can find on campus. We're trying to get them into the gym and make sure we're keeping air circulating there for the girls when the game starts."
If games must be postponed because of the heat, Bowen said, they will be postponed.
"I'd much rather cancel a game and worry about the whole rescheduling and the officials nightmare down the line than put the kids in harm's way," he said.
According to the high school athletic association, when the heat index is between 91 and 95 degrees, school should take the following actions:
- Provide ample water and water breaks every 15 minutes.
- Monitor athletes for heat illness.
- Consider postponing practice to a time when the "feels-like" temperature is lower.
- Consider reducing the amount of time for the practice session.
- One hour of recovery time for every hour of practice.
- Lightweight and loose-fitting clothing.
- Helmets only for football practice.
September heat has hampered athletes before. On Sept. 8, 2015, the high temperature hit 94 degrees and the heat felt like 96 degrees at 3 p.m. Numerous Capital Region games, meets and practices were pushed back and postponed because of the heat and humidity.
Bowen added that temperatures running into the 90s are usually a pre-season consideration.
"Not as we're starting to turn the page into October," he said.
Neil Stuart, a meteorologist with the weather service, said temperatures will be close to 90 on Tuesday.
"Wednesday, we may just be into the mid- to upper 80s, but that's still well above normal," Stuart said. "Finally, a cold front comes through Wednesday night and that will do it for the warm spell."
The mid-week cool-down won't end drought-like conditions — which fall foliage experts say could affect the area's color changes. Trees stressed by dry conditions will not produce vibrantly colored leaves.
Stuart, who added that 11 of September's first 25 days have been 80 degrees or above, does not expect rain any time soon.
"It looks like the relatively dry weather will continue, even as we cool down," he said.
Other athletic directors watched the heat numbers on Monday.
Jamian Rockhill, athletics chief at the Scotia-Glenville Central School District, said the starting time for a seventh-grader football game in Johnstown was pushed back, with hopes for cooler temperatures.
Like Schuylerville, Scotia-Glenville football players practiced with only helmets. Coaches were encouraged to give players breaks out of direct sunlight.
And Rockhill said Monday's physical education classes, which had been scheduled for outdoor exercises, stayed indoors.
At Mekeel Christian Academy in Scotia, the school's modified mixed competition soccer team did not practice. Athletic Director Dan Decker said the girls' soccer team practiced during a shortened session.
The Mekeel boys' soccer team played at Fonda-Fultonville, Decker said, and the teams ran four 20-minute quarters instead of the usual two 40-minute halves.
The quarter breaks gave more chances for rest and water.
Decker was not worried about more heat Tuesday.
"Our coaches will be cautious," he said.
Peter Sheehan, athletic director at Saratoga Springs High School, said he monitored Monday's temperatures every 30 minutes.
"You have to take precautionary measures," he said. "You need to make sure you're paying attention to what the heat index is and making the appropriate adjustment in your practice plans, whether it's practicing later, modifying the activities in your practice — building in more water breaks. I think those are all sensible steps to take.
"The days of Alabama football with no water breaks are over," he added.
One way to modify a cross country workout, Sheehan added, would be to keep runners closer to their schools.
"You can go out and do a short loop and come back, get some water and go back out," he said.
School athletic directors said they would respect high heat index numbers that could mean postponement.
Sheehan said referees are watching out for athletes, in games that have been played in warm weather.
"One of the things I've noticed the officials have been doing has been adding water breaks into games," he said. "The officials stop play and have allowed teams to get water breaks in, in addition to your normal timeouts and halftime and things like that. That's a nice step the officials have built in."