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Darton modifying, reviewing practice policies after heat illnesses

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY — Officials at Darton State College say they are modifying and reviewing their athlete practice protocols following three cases of heat-related illness involving members of its wrestling team earlier this week.

On Tuesday, the first day of practice, freshman Alex Washington fell victim to heat-related illness. Mike Kiefer, athletic director at Darton, said the athletic training staff responded and saw that he was transported to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, where he remained Friday afternoon.

“The next day, workouts were modified, and at the end of the workout, there were two more individuals (who fell ill from the heat),” Kiefer said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

” … Anybody who showed signs of struggle (on the second day) were removed, and others had the opportunity to remove themselves.”

One of the students hospitalized on Wednesday, sophomore Ben Richards, remained in critical condition Friday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said. The other, freshman Jaden Smith, was released from Phoebe Friday, Kiefer said.

“We are upset about it, and we are praying for their well-being,” he said.

Kiefer said that, after the first student became ill, additional extra water sessions were instituted — as well as extra ones as the wrestlers felt they needed them — and more education was brought in on proper nutrition and hydration. Now, he said, officials are speaking with medical and training experts to see how protocols can be further modified.

The athletic director also said all student athletes undergo physicals, and that the head coaches supervise the workouts. He also said the wrestling coaching staff has remained at Phoebe with the athletes’ families.

For the remainder of the week, wrestling practices were suspended to give a chance for the students’ bodies to recover. Other fall sports are continuing with practices, said Gary Barnette, vice president of academic and student affairs.

There were no incidents of heat-related illness with the wrestling team last year, Kiefer said.

As far as other modifications are concerned, Kiefer said that the wrestling team was no longer going to have afternoon conditioning sessions outdoors, and that there will be nutrition and hydration logs maintained for the athletes.

As far as the protocols as they stood prior to Tuesday, officials at the institution say they believed they were not broken.

“I believe our staff did follow the protocols,” Kiefer said.

Barnette said that the conditions of Richards and Washington would continue to be monitored through the weekend. A prayer circle was set to take place Friday at 6 p.m. on the field where the wrestlers went down.