FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A sure sign school is around the corner is high school athletics ramping up their outdoor activities across northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio. Safety though is paramount when it comes to athletes and spectators during outdoor school sporting events.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) has defined guidelines when it comes to the heat and thunderstorms that can be experienced this time of the year into the fall. You can read those guidelines here. The two biggest pieces of information to note are a 30-minute lightning hold when storms threaten and athletes having a designated period of acclimation to the heat. For football, kids cannot be expected to wear pads and full gear on the first day of practice and not overheat. There is a very precise schedule that athletes and coaches must follow to slowly become acclimated in order to avoid heat-related illnesses.

WANE 15 spoke to leaders at three local school districts. Rob Irwin, Athletic Director at Homestead High School, Dan Ginder, Athletic Director at Carroll High School, and Kurt Tippmann, Head Football Coach at Snider High School. All three of them shared their expertise on the issue of outdoor sporting event safety.

All three of them expressed how spectator safety at outdoor events is a team effort. The administrative staff, athletic directors, coaches, and officials all collaborate to make decisions on whether to postpone, move up, delay, or cancel events completely. There is even discussion between other schools and other area athletic directors. The goal is to gather as much information as possible to make the best possible decision.

In order to make the best decision, they gather data. Apps on phones can be used to track incoming weather. The National Weather Service is used as a source for weather that is happening now. Lightning is tracked in real-time and medical professionals are consulted when extreme heat or even extreme cold late in the season is in play. Air quality concerns have also been a unique challenge this year that coaches and fans are having to deal with.

It is important to be proactive and make decisions sooner rather than later in advance of a big weather event. It is always better to be too early with a decision than too late. The guidelines are there, but they are not black and white and every weather event is unique. This is why having plans in place are important, why practicing those plans are important, and why having post-event discussions on what could have been done differently or what went well are important.

Each school has a specific plan in place and coordinates with multiple individuals. Just like with the Damar Hamlin situation in the NFL last year, people are trained to respond in the case of an emergency.

For Rob Irwin at Homestead, where people go when severe weather strikes are all mapped out by venue. If a delay is announced on the public address system or on social media, there is a plan on where people then go, whether that is to their cars, the arena, or some other facility. Irwin is very cautious and takes his responsibility to keep people safe very seriously. People may not like to take action when their favorite sporting event is delayed, but it is necessary to ensure safety.

A storm builds near Homestead High School.

For Dan Ginder at Carroll, the same plan of where to put people to keep them safe is laid out. He examines where to go based on how quickly the weather will pass and what’s the safest place based on the weather’s severity. Enough time has to be given to get from point A to point B and that looks different for each event. A Friday night football game when it storms is a lot different compared to a rainy and cold March/April softball game, for example. A lot of thinking ahead as to how much time is needed for people to reach a safe place before the weather happens is necessary.

Students practice at Carroll High School.

For Kurt Tippmann at Snider, the policies in place have worked over his 27-year coaching career. He ensures preparation is complete for catastrophic events. Coaches take courses about weather events and safety for athletes. He is prepared to see any heat-related symptoms, make appropriate actions, and knows when it is required to get out of the elements and seek shelter. At Snider, they have a defined emergency action plan for immediate catastrophic events. This includes a system in place to know where to go to take immediate cover. Jobs are assigned so everyone has a role in the process and the plan is practiced so everyone knows what to do and is not just guessing. It is practiced in the same way plans are practiced on the football field. Someone calls 911, someone gets the trainer, someone gets an AED, someone else takes over practice, someone calls the parents, and someone gets a cool ice tub or towel ready; this is rehearsed and allows the process in real-time to be executed with precision if needed.

Students practice at Snider High School.

Thankfully, none of the three leaders have experienced a catastrophic event. However, heat cramps and dehydration have been a problem. This is because hydration is up to the athletes and spectators themselves. It is important to teach players how dehydration decreases performance ability. Players have been removed from play before and moved into a cool environment because of dehydration. In extreme cases, a hospital IV treatment has been needed.

Ultimately, players and spectators should feel safe about the safety plans in place. If you would like to know more safety tips, visit this link. We’ll keep you up to speed on the forecast too as school resumes this month!