Starting this July, SC schools will need a new tool to keep athletes safe in hot weather

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Wednesday morning, they tried to beat the heat with an early morning football practice at Gilbert High School – but no luck.

"It's hot," said Byron Millwood, the athletic trainer for Gilbert High. "It's very hot right now. It's humid. I mean, you know, in the South we would describe it as sticky."

By 10 a.m., it was so hot, so humid, so sticky, the practice had to be called early – and athletes sent inside to the air-conditioned weight room instead – because of a tool called a wet bulb globe thermometer.

"It's going to take a lot of different factors into account like the humidity, wind speed, and ambient temperature," Millwood said.

The tool gives Millwood, and many others, a more accurate temperature on the field. It's an important tool since humidity—combined with heat—can increase the risk of exertional heat stroke.

Even though Millwood has been using a wet bulb globe system for years, they hadn't been required across the state until now.

Related: Despite recent tragedies, school officials say protecting athletes from hot temps is top priority

Starting July 1st, all middle and high schools will have to secure a wet bulb thermometer to use during practice or competition when it's hot outside.

"Based off of that reading, we're going to use a chart given to us by the high school league, and that's going to dictate how many water breaks we have at practice, what type of uniforms that we can wear during that practice, how long we can be at practice," Millwood said.

The change should improve South Carolina's safety standing. A report card released by the University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute last year, shows the Palmetto State is one of the worst in the country at protecting student-athletes from heat stroke. Neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina were toward the top of that list. Both of those states require the special thermometers. South Carolina didn't at the time of the survey.

Now, South Carolina does too.

"It's another tool in the box to help us save lives," said Millwood.

Skip Lax, with the South Carolina High School League, believes South Carolina's safety ranking with the UCONN institute should go up as a result of recent changes.

Even though each thermometer costs several hundred dollars or more, Lax doesn't anticipate any problems with districts across the state being able to afford them.

When it comes to enforcement, he said if the league discovers that the thermometers aren't being used, league officials will contact principals or superintendents.

Fines are in the realm of possibility along with other measures.

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