Late-summer prep athletes have been falling like trees
By John Burbridge
Players, coaches, officials, chain-gang crewmen … even a few journalists … agreed in unison.
They had never seen anything like this before.
During the second half of last Friday’s football season-opener that pitted Charles City against hosting Oelwein, players were dropping like Premier League soccer players.
Except these “football players” weren’t flopping on the ground for Oscar nominations.
The writhing pain was seen through the facemasks of the prone athletes, and in several instances, expressed audibly with screams of agony echoing throughout the stadium.
In most cases, the players were felled by exercise associated muscle cramps — a welcome diagnosis as it usually assures the injury is temporary. Still, it was excruciating to witness … and witness again … and again.
Play was stopped repeatedly due to a continuous series of these cramps. At one stretch, three different players needed assistance after three consecutive plays.
Players experiencing cramps in football, especially with the early season aligning with the late summer, is rather common. But Friday’s Comets-at-Huskies game breached into inordinate range, and that was the ongoing discussion among those who have seen a few football games — as well as a few EAMCs — in their time.
Yet the oft-delayed game was far from unique if you’re going by last Friday alone.
According to numerous game reports from across the state that night, leg and muscle cramps plagued contests at unprecedented frequencies.
The cited causes for muscle cramps afflicting otherwise healthy athletes are varied. It could be a matter of poor blood flow to the lower limbs due to the narrowing of arteries; added pressure on the nerves in one’s spine; or too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in one’s diet.
But the most conspicuous culprit in regards to referenced laid low football player is dehydration prompted by extreme sweating induced by physical activity amid sweltering conditions.
State-wide heat-index conditions last Friday were mild in comparison to earlier in the week, but note that many teams were practicing during the crucible of last week’s heat wave with much-anticipated season openers providing the motivation to bust a gut.
You may know where I’m going with this and are already harboring reservations about having to suffer yet another sportswriter straying out of his lane to use his platform to affirm the man-made specter of global warming, but let me first make a plea on behalf of humanity that it might not all be “man-made”.
Though it’s hard to challenge the authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a United Nations body — and its bold declaration “Since systematic scientific assessments began in the 1970s, the influence of human activity on the warming of the climate system has evolved from theory to established fact”, let’s not let Johannes Kepler off the hook.
Kepler’s elliptical Earth orbit — as opposed to Copernicus’s lower maintenance perfect-circle orbit — is subject to orbital cycles that include changes in eccentricity (orbit shape), axial precession (Earth wobble) and changes in obliquity (Earth tilt) … all of which NASA attributes to most of the climate epochs during this planet’s history.
But NASA and its Earth Science Communications Department also unequivocally state that the 2-degree Fahrenheit increase of the planet’s average surface temperature since the late 19th Century is driven largely by increased carbon dioxide emissions and other human activities.
If we are approaching a global warming critical mass, what would be the palpable warning signs aside from walking outside our door? The preponderance of voracious wildfires and megafires due to increased aridity of forest fuels during the fire season? The shrinking ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica? The rising sea levels? The higher voltage weather events?
Such evidence tends to get counterpunched short of meaningful policy change by deft fossil fuel and profit-margin mercenaries who are quick to point out … for example … that wildfires taking out swaths of Sequoias and Redwoods are actually natural occurrences good for the species (and nature) as they clear out space and extract seeds from fallen and burned-open cones to bring forth new generations of trees.
If megafires and wildfires are natural and necessary (home and property owners be damned), and — thus — should be checked off the “Canary in a Coal Mine” list of pending apocalypse indicators, what could take their place?
How about the uptick of heat-related distress tormenting today’s late-summer athletes?
Kudos are in order for those who canceled the “Early Bird Cross Country Invitational” Charles City hosts annually at Wildwood Golf Course. This year’s event was due to take place last Thursday (Aug. 24) when the heat index exceeded 110.
Who would want to run in such conditions? Apparently fewer than ever before. While compiling local cross country stories for our Fall Sport Preview edition, I was made aware of the considerable dearth of athletes going out for cross country this season. It’s a trend that has been building — or rather diminishing — over the past few seasons.
“Old Schoolers” may want to commandeer the floor right now to relate of the good old days when they ran XC with nary a thought of such abstract terms as “heat index” and were graced with football coaches liken to Alabama icon Paul “Bear” Bryant, who made his players “earn” their water breaks.
But the “good old school days” likely didn’t include the late summers of 2016 and 2020 — years tied for the warmest on record.
And according to my calculations (common sense, really), it’s likely going to get even warmer. That’s why there needs to be — in concurrence with the increased heat — increased vigilance to monitor athletes who may find themselves in greater peril than the late-summer athletes before them.
This may not be the Brave New World that some had envisioned, but it sure as hell has become a hotter one.