By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Despite unseasonably cool temperatures this summer in Michigan, high school athletes should prepare for the heat that usually accompanies August and the beginning of Michigan High School Athletic Association fall practices as they kick off next week.
Each year, the MHSAA provides information to its member schools to help them prepare for hot weather practice and game conditions in the late summer and early fall. Football practice can begin August 11, followed by first practices for all other fall sports August 13.
The topic of heat-related injuries receives a lot of attention at this time of year, especially when deaths at the professional, collegiate and interscholastic levels of sport occur, and especially since they are preventable in most cases with the proper precautions. In football, data from the National Federation of State High School Associations shows that nationally 41 high school players died from heat stroke between 1995 and 2013.
Many MHSAA schools this fall are expected to again follow the MHSAA’s Model Policy for Managing Heat & Humidity that directs schools to monitor heat index prior to and during activity and recommends actions based on those readings.
Also this school year, for the first time, the MHSAA is requiring all assistant and subvarsity coaches at the high school level to complete the same rules and risk minimization meeting requirement as high school varsity head coaches, or, in the alternative, one of several online courses designated for this purpose on MHSAA.com.
“It’s not an accident that causes severe heat illness and death. It’s a lack of attention to what should’ve been taking place, a lack of preparation,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “We’re trying to communicate to our constituents that if we make the precautions that we should, plan as we should, we will have none of these tragedies in school sports.”
The MHSAA Representative Council adopted in 2013 the Model Policy for Managing Heat & Humidity that, while not mandated for member schools, has been adopted by many at the local level. The plan directs schools to begin monitoring the heat index at the activity site once the air temperature reaches 80 degrees and provides recommendations when the heat index reaches certain points, including ceasing activities when it rises above 104 degrees.
The model policy is outlined in a number of places, including the publication Heat Ways, which is available for download from the MHSAA Website. Heat Ways not only provides the model policy, but addresses the need for proper acclimatization in hot weather.
Heat, hydration and acclimatization also are again focuses of the MHSAA’s required preseason rules meetings for coaches and officials. The online presentation discusses the need for good hydration in sports, regardless of the activity or time of year.
The Health & Safety Resources page of the MHSAA Website has a number of links to different publications and information and a free online presentation from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Visit MHSAA.com, click on “Schools” and then on “Health & Safety Resources” to find the information.
Roberts said the first days of formal practices in hot weather should be more for heat acclimatization than the conditioning of athletes, and that practices in such conditions need planning to become longer and more strenuous over a gradual progression of time.
He added schools also must consider moving practices to different times of day, different locations, or change practice plans to include different activities depending on the conditions.
“I think all schools need to prepare themselves in these ways,” Roberts said. “They need to educate participants, parents and coaches about proper hydration and the dangers of practicing and competing when the heat and humidity are too high.”
Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.
Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Jill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.
“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”
Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.