The Decorah School Board was addressed Monday night by Dan Baldwin of Decorah who expressed his concerns regarding the health and safety of the student athletes when competing in extreme heat conditions.
During its regular monthly meeting, the Board listened to Baldwin specifically refer to the weather conditions at the Go-Hawk Cross Country Classic Tuesday, Sept. 4, in Waverly. According to Baldwin, when the Go-Hawk meet began, the air temperature was 93 degrees at 5 p.m. at the Waterloo Airport and the humidity was 37 percent. He had made an effort to find out how many athletes were sent to the hospital to be treated for illnesses. He was referred to Adam Riley, the associate principal/activities director for Decorah High School.
"Mr. Riley kindly communicated to me some information about the meet," said Baldwin. "For instance, he told me there were indeed several athletes (from the 15 different schools participating) transported to the hospital to be treated for heat-related illnesses. Only one Decorah athlete was transported to the hospital to be treated for dehydration. I would be very surprised indeed if the meet organizers didn't know exactly how many athletes collapsed on Tuesday, but they're not saying."
Attempts to find out how many athletes were sent to the hospital to be treated for heat-related illnesses were unsuccessful.
Baldwin also pointed out the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) governs these events and provides a heat index table. According to the table, temperature and humidity readings must always be taken in conditions that correspond to the conditions under which competition will take place. Baldwin also mentioned meet cancellations are not mandated by the IHSAA unless the heat index reaches 130 degrees.
"If it was 93 degrees in the shade, the air temperature in direct sunlight must have been well over 100 degrees," said Baldwin.
According to Baldwin, even though Decorah athletes are given the option not to run, students will nearly always choose to compete, no matter how difficult the weather conditions may be.
"The last thing they want to do is disappoint their teammates, parents and especially their coaches. As Riley put it so eloquently in one of his e-mail messages to me, 'as we all know, kids compete hard and don't always know or understand the limitations of their own bodies.'"
Baldwin also called attention to a developing trend he calls "routinization of heat exhaustion, dehydration and overnight hospital stays as a reasonable price to pay for fielding a high school cross country team or any athletic squad."
"If, God forbid, one of the buses transporting our athletes to Waverly last Tuesday had been involved in a minor traffic accident and even one of our athletes had, as a result, been transported to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries, I'm quite sure it would have made front-page news," said Baldwin.
Baldwin told the Board he wants some assurance the ISHAA rules are being faithfully observed and applied.
The Board discussed the matter and said the school will purchase at least two hygrometers, which measure the current air temperature and the relative humidity at a particular location, and will continue to discuss the concerns brought up by Baldwin.