LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - With football season eight weeks away for most high schools in Arkansas, lots of teams are already out on the field putting in work during the hot summer months. Coaches and trainers know a lot more about playing in the heat than they did in years past, and it's saving lives.
"Things have changed a lot, I'd say, in the last 25 years they've changed tremendously," said Pulaski Academy head football coach Kevin Kelley. "When I was in high school, it's changed a lot. Then coaches didn't let you have water breaks, you were kind of a candy if you took a water break. We ate salt tablets instead of that. They had buckets of salt tablets, and we're eating them and doing different things--things now if you did, people would think you were absolutely out of your mind."
Kelley takes heat-related illness seriously, especially after one of his players got heat stroke at practice three years ago.
"The last thing I remember was coach going 'Alright guys, go get it padded up,' and after that, it's just a blank. Next thing I know I'm waking up 10 days later in Children's Hospital," said Will James, now a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "Once we finished, they said I was stumbling over there and what happened was we got to the huddle, we broke, and I literally just collapsed. I just collapsed."
James said his temperature shot up to 108 degrees that day, and he spent the following three weeks in the hospital with kidney failure and other heat-related complications.
"I had never even heard of heat stroke," added James. "I never thought it could be something as serious as what I went through. I didn't know it could do that kind of damage to your body."
"We're much more educated as far as going to classes, as far as taking online courses and as far as some awareness things like that," said Kelley. "And we're really more educated on what to do if it happens to you."
Kelley now has his players take ice baths after every practice and makes sure they get plenty of water during practice and throughout the day.
"I'm very happy with the steps and precautions they've taken to make sure it never happens," said James. "Because after my 21 days in the hospital, it's an experience that no one needs to go through. Nobody needs to die from this. It's completely, 100 percent avoidable."
James said in the years since his heat stroke incident, he has worked with a number of different organizations to promote education and training on heat-related illnesses. Two days before he collapsed that day at practice, Tyler Davenport, another Arkansas high schooler collapsed from heat stroke at Lamar High School. Davenport died in a hospital two months later.