Parents, students deal with record-breaking heat to start football season
The stands at Briarwood Christian School’s Lion’s Pride stadium in Birmingham were packed with families carrying fans, coolers of ice, and cold drinks as they settled in to watch the first high school football game of the season.
Three-year-old Layla Shepherd is draped over her father Victor’s shoulders as he carries her to their seats to settle in and watch his other daughter cheer. Both of them are shiny with sweat.
This game started a half-hour later than usual, in an attempt to combat the scorching summer temperatures. But, Victor Shepherd said, it wasn’t worth it.
“That 30 minutes was really a waste of time, cause the heat still going to be the heat no matter what,” he said.
Shepherd, whose toddler has that far-off stare of someone who needs a nap, said they’ll probably be in the stands until at least 11:30 p.m.
“But, you know, whatever it takes to helps the kids, I’m with it,” he said.
This has been a record-breaking summer across the country and particularly in the Gulf South in August. Several cities between Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama shattered their all-time high temperature records. In New Orleans, the city reached a suffocating 105 degrees, Gulfport Mississippi hit 107 degrees while Mobile, Alabama reached 106.
In response, last week the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Mississippi High School Activities Association announced they were offering teams the opportunity to delay kickoff times. Mississippi mandated teams delay games an hour later than the usual 7 p.m. kick off. While, Alabama gave schools the option to delay start times, but with a few conditions; coaches along with officials would had to agree on the start time, a quarter cannot start after midnight, and the game cannot continue after 12:30 a.m.
Missy Leonard said she grew up in the South and is used to hot Alabama summers, but this recent heat wave has been unbelievable.
“I mean it has been consistently at these temps for now like…weeks,” she said. “Actually, the girls came to our house before the game and I was like, ‘at what point do they call off school?’”
Leonard is a cheer mom at Briarwood. She, along with other parents, said they are trying everything to keep their children cool.
“We did do some things to prep that we don’t normally do,” she said. “Like we brought a cooler, – my co-team-parent brought a cooler - of frozen, wet cloths. We brought an additional cooler of water just to help keep everybody hydrated. We brought liquid IV.”
Erica Booker, a band mom at Clay Chalkville, said parents brought multiple bags of ice and water bottles attempting to counter the exhausting temperatures.
“We had cold water that was already in the refrigerator just so that we could have something for the band to cool them off and everything was still melted and the water bottles got hot,” Booker said.
Some players and parents said the half-hour or hour delay of kickoff just isn’t enough time.
“The 30 minutes did not help, it did not help enough,” said Clay Chalkville junior defensive tackle Randell Cole.
In the weeks leading up to the game, Cole said the coaching staff and trainers worked hard to keep players cool - like ice baths, and keeping players hydrated. However, he still started cramping mid-game due to the heat. “Other than that we kept playing through it, kept playing the other team and didn’t let the heat beat us…we were ready for today,” Cole said.
His team walked away with a 31-0 victory.
There was one group who didn’t seem to mind the heat– the student section in the stands cheering for Briarwood. Some said the 30-minute delay did help, and kept them from having to sit directly in the setting sun.
And, although they didn’t win – they were clearly excited, yelling and throwing confetti in the air.
Lynnlee Briggs said she drank a “ton” of water and was hyped up for the game. While Caroline Goocher said she stayed near an air conditioner as long as possible before heading to the game. She said she’s excited to have a good season with her classmates.
“It’s definitely hot, but I think we’re all excited to cheer on our team tonight,” Goocher said.
There’s cooler weather for Alabama’s teams going into the second weekend of games. A Birmingham school district spokesperson said there are not any game delays planned.
In Mississippi, the high school activities association announced its schools will be back to regular game start times at 7 p.m.