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Heatstroke killed four football players during 1998, expert urges precautions

CHAPEL HILL - Four high school football players died from heatstroke during the 1998 season, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.

Such deaths are almost always preventable, and coaches for football and all other vigorous sports should take extra precautions in hot weather to prevent tragedies, the study director says.

"In the past four years, we have seen 11 football-related heatstroke deaths," said Dr. Frederick Mueller, professor and chair of physical education, exercise and sport science at UNC-CH. "Shorter practices in hot weather and non-contact drills during which players don't wear helmets can help prevent heatstroke and reduce accidents. Players should be allowed as much water as they want, and coaches should schedule regular cooling-off breaks."

Practices should never be scheduled during the hottest part of the day, Mueller said.

Eight players died from heatstroke in 1970, the highest one-year total, he said. No heatstroke deaths occurred in 1993 and 1994 during practices or games. Before 1955, no heatstroke deaths were recorded among players. Few schools and homes had air conditioning, and it's likely players were better able to tolerate high temperatures and humidity.

During 1998, seven football players died across the United States as a direct result of injuries suffered on the field, the study showed. Seven other players - including the heatstroke victims -- also died, but those fatalities were not directly tied to the game and could have resulted from other vigorous activities.

"All of the direct fatalities resulted from damage to the brain," Mueller said "Three of the indirect deaths were heart-related."

Also last year, four players suffered cervical cord injuries with permanent disability, and four others were permanently disabled by brain injuries, he said. Most of the deaths and severe injuries resulted from players tackling o
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Contact: David Williamson
David_Williamson@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
2-Aug-1999


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