Suffolk County has taken a strong stance on protecting student athletes from heat-related incidents, even tougher than the guidelines set forth by the state.

Don Webster, the executive director of Section XI, which governs Suffolk's interscholastic athletics, said Suffolk's safety committee put a policy in place in 2003 that is much more restrictive than the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association's rules for heat alerts.

"The state guidelines for a heat alert policy were revised in May of 2010," Webster said. "Our safety committee reviewed the policy and the state came more in line with what we already had in place for our student athletes."

StoryDoctor: Football player critical after heatstroke

Nikolas Visco, 16, a junior on the Riverhead High School varsity football team, suffered heatstroke during Monday morning's practice session -- the first practice of the preseason -- and remained in critical but stable condition Saturday at Stony Brook Children's Hospital.

Webster said that if the heat index goes above 88 degrees anywhere in the county, a modified heat alert is issued. While there was no such alert issued Monday morning, Suffolk did issue one later that day when the temperature reached 92. A mandatory heat alert goes into effect when the index reaches 95.

Riverhead Superintendent of Schools Nancy Carney said that even though Section XI had not declared a heat alert on Monday morning, her district was on a modified heat alert.

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"Our coaches were practicing under a self-imposed modified heat alert," she said. "They were working out in T-shirts and shorts and followed all state guidelines."

According to the National Weather Service, the heat index is the temperature the human body feels when the relative humidity combines with the air temperature. Since a person sweats to cool off when the body gets too hot, if the relative humidity is high, it makes it more difficult for sweat to leave the body.

"It doesn't matter if it's 8 degrees cooler on the East End, all schools will be in a modified heat alert with mandatory and forced water breaks every 15 minutes, loose-fitted and light-colored T-shirts and shorts, and rest in shaded areas," Webster said. "If the heat index reaches 95 degrees, we are in a full heat alert and we cancel everything."

The state high school athletic association's guidelines call for a heat index caution when the heat index is 80 to 85 degrees, with water breaks, watching for heat illness and reducing practice time.

A heat index watch is for a heat index of 86 to 90 degrees, with water breaks, watching for heat illness, reducing practice time and giving recovery time of at least one hour for every hour of practice. The state also recommends postponing the practice.

A heat index warning is for a heat index of 91 to 95 degrees, with water breaks every 15 minutes, loose-fitted, lightweight clothing to be worn, and no equipment other than helmets.

If the heat index reaches 96 degrees or higher, a heat index alert is issued and all outdoor activities are canceled.

Suffolk's heat alert policy also limits times for practice sessions, allowing teams to work out between 7 and 10 a.m. and again from 5 to 8 p.m. prior to Labor Day.

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"We're much stricter than the state with our preseason guidelines," Webster said. "We do not allow practice for any sports between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. with the exception of golf and swimming. They can't even practice in an air-conditioned gymnasium."

The state high school athletic association does not have restrictions on practice times. Section VIII, which governs Nassau County high school athletics, also has no such restrictions on practice times.

"We follow the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association heat index policy," said Nina Van Erk, the executive director of Section VIII. "And we cover the heat index policy at our football coaches meeting prior to the start of the season."

Webster said Suffolk has a system in place to avoid heat-related illnesses. Bayport-Blue Point athletic director Tim Mullins, who serves as chairman of Suffolk's safety committee, emails or calls the sectional office each morning, with a real-feel temperature and the heat index in a minimum of four areas of the county.

Mullins will get gets those temperatures from four to six sites, including the East End, North Shore, South Shore and center of the county, and reports to Webster.

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Unlike Suffolk, the state allows an athletic trainer, athletic director or school designee to use the accuweather.com website to determine the heat index for the area.

Webster said they have a standard rule in place for his office to make decisions on heat alerts instead of leaving it up to the individual schools or athletic trainers.

"If any area gets close, we'll call a modified heat alert countywide," Webster said. "Some people like it and some people don't but it provides an equitable decision that's fair to everyone. This way no one has an unfair advantage in practicing while the other school sits idle."

Moved up: But Riverhead Superintendent of Schools Nancy Carney said that even though Section XI had not declared a heat alert on Monday, her district was on a modified heat alert.

"Our coaches were practicing under a self-imposed modified heat alert," she said. "They were working out in T-shirts and shorts and followed all state guidelines."