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Schools of Thought: Verdict: There is no winner

January 26, 2009
By Bill Cain, The Leader-Herald

Broadalbin-Perth football coach Rick Snyder remembers Week 1 several years ago, a Saturday afternoon game at Schalmont.

"It was so hot, I can remember the kid, Frank Vickers. We had the wet towels around his neck," Snyder said. "He had been carrying the ball a lot. We kept him right out of the game because it was a dizzy-type feeling and it was really scary. But he was sweating a lot, and that's usually good. Some of those [early-season] games - they can be hot."

Gloversville head coach Tom Ciaccio was an assistant with B-P at the time.

"It was probably over 95 degrees," he said. "I just remember the officials stopping play to let everyone get water and make sure they were hydrated"

Ciaccio said he believes, in games, the officials and coaches share a joint responsibility to make sure the players are safe on the hot and humid afternoons in the early season.

In practice, the responsibility rests on the coaches, alone.

Last August, Pleasure Ridge Park High School first-year coach David Stinson's first week of practice ended in tragedy. Three days after collapsing from heat stroke in practice, 15-year-old offensive lineman Max Gilpin died.

Thursday, Stinson was indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless homicide. His arraignment was set for today.

Now, I wasn't at the practice, so I don't know everything there is to know about the day's events.

What I do know is I have never met a coach who didn't put the safety of the athletes before everything else. It makes it hard to believe a coach would do anything criminal regarding the safety of a player.

Local high school football coaches are no different.

Most schools run their practices in the morning or evening, or both when they run two-a-days, but afternoon practices are rare and avoided when possible.

Even Fonda-Fultonville coach Tom Carpenter, whose team plays many of its games on Saturday afternoons, avoids subjecting his players to the hottest temperatures of the day.

Carpenter also understands the sweat pouring out of his athletes is the water they drank the day before. He educates them on the importance of hydrating throughout the week, not just on game day.

"What we try to tell the kids, even through the course of the week, is how important it is to hydrate," Carpenter said. "How important it is to drink water or Gatorade, not soda, and drink more than the feel they need to drink. You can't really hydrate that day [for the game]. We try to educate them to drink as much water as they can."

Carpenter said as the older he gets, the more he errs on the side of caution.

Caution is great, but coaches must also prepare their players for upcoming games, getting them in condition for more strenuous situations than they will find on the practice field.

"It's scary, but at the same time, as a coach, it's your job to make sure these kids are in shape so when they get in a game situation, they're not getting injured," Johnstown coach Bob Kraemer said. "Fatigue is the cause of a lot of injuries. If a kid gets tired late in the game, that's where injuries are going to occur. It's one of those fine lines."

On either side of that fine line, it's lose-lose. The coaches still walk it and do so for the sake of the kids.

It's probably a lot easier to forget that when yours is the child in question, but it's no less true.

Every local coach will, no doubt, be following the case as the prosecution proceeds and making sure they are doubly safe when the summer sun again bakes the regions practice fields.

Maybe that's the only bright spot - the spotlight shining on the case pushing other coaches to revisit their practice policies. Regardless of who wins the case, Ciaccio had it right Saturday when he said, "There's no winners at all."

"My heart goes out to the family of the young athlete that died," he said. "But my thoughts are also with the coach because it's a tragedy in his life as well. To have that happen to one of your players is like having a child die. Then to be brought up on charges when he probably cared more for those kids than most people - it's a tragedy any way you look at it."



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