Athletes' hypothermia: Eyeing guidelines

An Oceanside player, right, goes down into the

An Oceanside player, right, goes down into the ice during the Nassau High School Conference I football game. (Oct. 29, 2011) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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After Saturday's snow, wind and rain left more than a dozen Long Island high school football players with hypothermia, one district is reconsidering its game-cancellation policies.

"We certainly are going to review our decision-making," Plainview-Old Bethpage school district superintendent Gerard W. Dempsey Jr. said. Fifteen players were treated for hypothermia symptoms at the district's John F. Kennedy High School game against Valley Stream Central High Saturday afternoon.

In the game between Bellmore-Merrick district's Calhoun High School of North Merrick and Sewanhaka district's Carey High School of Franklin Square, about 10 players were checked for hypothermia, although not all of them were diagnosed with the condition.

Hypothermia occurs when someone is exposed to cold air or water and the body loses heat faster than making it. Symptoms include shivering, cold or pale skin, unsteadiness, slurred speech and numbness.

Plainview's game was canceled at halftime, before most of the players went to the hospital. All 15 were treated and released, school officials said.

The Calhoun-Carey game was not canceled. Symptoms of hypothermia weren't noticed in most students until after the game, Calhoun coach Joe Bianca said, adding that the affected students were released from the hospital.

Dempsey said he expects his district to discuss its policy internally and then take up the issue with the local section of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which governs school sports.

Representatives from the Valley Stream, Bellmore-Merrick and Sewanhaka school districts could not be reached Sunday.

The athletic association advises districts on when and how games should be held in bad weather, said Pat Pizzarelli, football coordinator of the association's Section 8, which covers Nassau County.

The guidelines call for games to be canceled if the wind chill is minus 11 degrees or colder. Saturday's wind chill in Merrick and Plainview was in the 20s, the National Weather Service reported.

But torrential rains soaked the field and the players' clothing.

"The game started and the conditions continued to get worse as the game went on," said Plainview's coach, Chris Rogler. "The field was just taking on water and taking on water. They're sliding through puddles when they're getting tackled, they're full of mud that's pretty ice cold itself and the wind was whipping around."

At halftime, Rogler said, the coaches stopped the game.

"I think the bottom line is, we as professionals, as coaches, need to keep the kids' best interest in mind," he said. "If something is unsafe, it's unsafe. That's it."

The five Calhoun players were checked as a postgame precaution when staff noticed red spots on players' bodies and the players said their feet were very cold, Bianca said.

"To be honest with you, it's a game that's been around a long time and they always played in the worst weather," he said. "That's what football's about, right . . . playing in the mud?"

But he said if he thought conditions warranted canceling a game, he would do it readily.

"If I thought my kids were in danger," he said, "I would have never played the game."

With Laura Albanese

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