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Football, heat deadly mixture

August is an oppressive month in Georgia, and especially in Southwest Georgia.

Temperatures forecast to be in the high 90s tend to break triple digits on a regular basis and heat indices -- how hot it feels -- have topped 110 degrees, and are expected to again over the next several days.

The mixture of scorching heat and high humidity, which compromises the body's ability to cool itself through sweating, is a deadly one.

It's inevitable when August broils the state that there are reports of deaths, both human and animal, that are attributed to the excessive heat. And while every untimely death is a tragedy, it is even more so when those struck down are young.

Already this month, two Georgia high school football players -- each only 16 years old -- have died while practicing for the coming football season that will start in a few weeks. Don'terio J. Searcy of Fitzgerald died Tuesday following morning practice at football camp at Lake City, Fla. Forrest Jones of Locust Grove collapsed on the practice field Monday and was taken to an Atlanta hospital, where he died Wednesday.

After a football death in 2006 -- the last such death in Georgia until this year -- The Georgia High School Association required members schools to adopt rules regarding practice in high heat and we would hope that GHSA schools are following them to the letter. In Dougherty County, public schools have a rule that practice moves inside or is canceled when the heat index reaches 105. For private schools, the Georgia Independent School Association says that when the heat index hits 102 degrees, players can't wear any pads while practicing, and that practice has to move inside or be canceled when the index hits 110.

While this will not be a popular position with football fans whose community and school pride is on the line under the lights every Friday night during the late summer and fall, this weather simply is not safe for daytime exertion. Practice starts in August because game schedules have to work back from playoffs that state school officials want completed before the Christmas holidays, but from a health standpoint there's no good reason for teenagers to be exerting themselves under a scorching sun in this blistering heat.

The argument by some is that in the "old days" the coaches and players were tougher. Maybe they were. That doesn't mean they were smarter. We're happy advances have been made from the days when coaches admonished their players to not drink too much water on rare breaks so they wouldn't cramp, then handed out salt tablets at the end of practice.

But when two otherwise healthy young men succumb to preventable deaths, it's time to take another look at the precautions that have been mandated and determine whether they are, indeed, adequate for protecting the lives of our children. Football will never be a completely safe game, but it can be made safer.

Young boys dream of taking the field and making the pass, the run or the catch that brings a championship and pride to their community.

It's a dream many of us have shared, and a special few have lived.

And chasing that dream shouldn't cost a boy his life.