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Battle continues for player safety against heat conditions

Local high school sports staffs, continuing to fight for players’ safety in the hot summer months, will introduce a device to help measure field conditions.

As part of a statewide initiative, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) hopes to rule that all high schools are required to purchase a new life-saving device by next year.

“Starting next year, we will be using these WetBulb Globe Temperature readers,” said Christina Emrich, who is the athletic trainer at Red Bank Regional High School and also the president of the Athletic Trainers’ Society of New Jersey.

Emrich introduced the device at a press conference held at Metuchen High School on Aug. 2.

“These things take a reading of the field’s conditions, based on temperature, humidity, wind speed and sun radiation. Based on the four factors, the machine will give us a number that will tell us whether or not it’s safe for athletes to practice on the field. We look at the number, and then look at our guide to see what the appropriate steps are,” said Emrich, who has worked at Red Bank Regional since 1995.

New Jersey Senator Patrick Diegnan, along with representatives from the NJSIAA and the JFK and Somerset Medical Centers, held the press conference at Metuchen High School to discuss the epidemic of heat stroke and other heat-related injuries in sports during the summer months, and how the state is working to combat the issue in high school sports.

According to coachsafely.com, high school athletes, especially males, are at the highest risk of suffering exertional heat illness requiring treatment in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. Thirty-one high school football players died of heat stroke complications between 1995 and 2009, and the number of heat-related injuries from 1997 to 2006 increased 133 percent, with youths accounting for the largest proportion of heat-related injuries at 47.6 percent, according to coachsafely.com.

Emrich demonstrated how the machine worked at the press conference, and the machine read the field’s conditions as an 88.8. According to the guide, the press conference was in the black zone — the highest on the chart.

“If there were a practice going on now, we would suggest that the coach cancels it or move it to a different location or time,” Emrich said. “If we can deem that the playing field is too dangerous before practices even start, we can prevent a lot of issues.”

The guide has four color zones: green, yellow, red and black. The zones represent a low risk to extreme or hazardous, respectively. The green zone is what the WetBulb deems as anything up to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Yellow is anything 65-73 degrees, red is 73-82 degrees and black is anything over 82 degrees, according to the guide.

Diegnan brought the expertise of Emrich, Dr. Ken Herman and Dr. John Kripsak to highlight what New Jersey has done to prevent heat stroke and heat-related injuries in the state’s athletes, as well as what they plan to do in the future.

Herman is the chief of emergency medicine services at JFK Medical Center in Edison, according to a press release from Diegnan. Kripsak is the director of sports medicine at Somerset Medical Center, according to the release. Kripsak also is the team physician for the Somerset Patriots and Bridgewater-Raritan High School and sits on the medical board of the NJSIAA, according to the release.

“If you know anything about me, then you know I love sports, especially when it comes to our kids,” Diegnan said. “I’m proud to say that New Jersey is a leader when it comes to safety in our athletes.”

Diegnan highlighted one of the ways the state has made the effort to combat the issue, reiterating that heat stroke and heat-related injuries are preventable.

“In 2011, New Jersey became the first state to adopt guidelines on preventing heat-related injuries,” Diegnan said. “Since those guidelines have been adopted, we have not had one reported incident.”

According to Emrich, the technology has been used in the military for years, as well as in college and professional sports.

“We believe that technology is a great investment,” Emrich said. “It will go a long way to preventing harm to our athletes.”

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