Westside football player Tre Ison planned all summer for this week. Drinking mostly water and Powerade, Ison has tried to stay hydrated the past two months while playing pickup basketball games outdoors and mowing the lawn.
Area high school teams are in the midst of the first full week of football practice this week with temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s and the heat index climbing above 100 degrees. For Ison, motivation to prepare for this week stemmed from the Patriots' 2008 season-opening loss to Richmond Academy, an eight-point defeat.
"When we played Richmond, almost everybody in the lineup got cramps," the junior wide receiver/safety said. "That's one of the main reasons we lost."
With football season starting with Week Zero on Aug. 20, coaches are trying to get their players acclimated to the heat. Some teams such as Silver Bluff and South Carolina Class A defending champion Williston-Elko are holding practices in the morning, while others such as Jefferson County and Westside are going in late afternoon.
Silver Bluff began their practices at 7:30 a.m. Still, the early-morning sessions didn't prevent a couple of Bulldogs from overheating Wednesday morning -- they needed IV fluids to recover.
"The humidity was just so bad," Silver Bluff coach Al Lown said. "It kind of jumped up on them."
Lown likes holding practices in the morning to avoid any worry of heat index or pop-up afternoon thunderstorms. He tries to instill in his players to drink plenty of water before they arrive.
"If they're not hydrated by the time they get to practice," he said, "they're already in trouble."
When the full slate of games begins Aug. 27, several players across the area are sure to suffer from cramps. Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes said he's tried everything he can think of to help his players -- pickle juice, Gatorade with salt -- but he's found no magic elixir.
"Really," he said, "it's just a matter of the kids being in shape and used to the heat."
Evans coach Marty Jackson said video games contribute to the delay of getting teenagers used to playing in hot weather. When the Knights practice, they do so in scorching conditions.
"It's critical that we get them exposed to as much heat as possible, but also get them hydrated," he said. "I tell our kids to come to practice full of fluid."
Area coaches recognize the importance of players taking breaks to drink water in this heat. At Evans, Jackson gives his team a break every 10 to 15 minutes. At Lakeside, the Panthers have cooling stations placed around the practice field. At Aquinas, coach Matt LeZotte said his team monitors the time it practices, and he gives five-minute breaks when players take off all their pads to refresh.
At Jefferson County, 100 players practiced in the afternoon each day this week. When it's "killer hot," Warriors coach J.B. Arnold said, the team practices for 15 minutes and then takes a break.
Eight coaches keep a close eye on the players, who have ice water and cold towels on hand. If a player doesn't feel well, Arnold makes him sit out for a spell in the shade.
Jefferson County's players have been acclimating themselves to the heat all summer. The Warriors have attended eight different passing leagues or other camps.
"If something happens to one of my kids, I'll never be able to forgive myself," Arnold said. "We've got to make sure we don't push a kid past his limit."
Lakeside, which appeared in the playoffs last season for the first time in nine years, returned to action Monday. For the Panthers, returning to form meant getting back in the elements.
"You've got to be outdoors in the heat," Lakeside coach Jarrett Troxler said. "It's a tough sport."