How Evansville-area high school football teams are adapting to this week's heat wave

Kyle Sokeland
Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE — There could be another first in the football coaching career of John Hurley.

This fall marks his 16th season as the head coach at Memorial High School. There have been occasional night practices over the years but never had they gone before school. That was until the Tigers rolled up to Bob Hargrave Field at 5:45 a.m. on Monday.

It didn't end there. From practices to games, this week's entire schedule is different. Blame a late-summer heat wave.

“I can’t ever remember having to reschedule everything,” said Hurley.

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Southwestern Indiana has been hit this week with an abnormally high heat index in the triple digits. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning that runs through Friday at 10 p.m. CDT. And guess what happens on Friday nights? Football, at least that's the hope.

Memorial Head Coach John Hurley, left, and Castle Head Coach Doug Hurt talk before their teams' scrimmage at John Lidy Field in Paradise, Ind., Friday evening, Aug. 12, 2022.

This heat wave, with temperatures potentially reaching 100 degrees, is causing every high school football team to adapt. There's a mandate that outdoor practices must happen before sunrise or after sunset if the heat index goes above 105.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association labels anything higher as a danger (106-129 degrees) or extreme danger (130+) with sunstroke, muscle cramps, and/or heat exhaustion likely. A heatstroke is possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity.

“The entire summer we went at 7 p.m.," said Central coach Brandon Artis. "We're benefitting that this is what we're used to. We have kids carrying a gallon of water each day. We have our trainer here and just trying to keep guys as acclimated as possible. We're prepared to play whether it's Friday or Saturday."

The heat has already affected this week's schedule

Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation athletics director Andy Owen told the Courier & Press that all outdoor contests held during the week will move to 7 p.m. or later if needed. Many events scheduled, including junior varsity football on Monday, were canceled or postponed.

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North coach Joey Paridaen opted for morning practices, which meant a 4 a.m. wake-up call. Several players wore chilly pads around their neck or head when taking a break on the sideline.

“I think the good ones are able to adjust,” Paridaen said of the changes. “That will happen this Friday. We may have several delays and extended halftimes. You don’t know what the heat will do to you. I thought (our players) have done a nice job and gotten better each day so far.”

How much is practice affected? The details differ, but the consensus is more breaks and less pads. Some teams used Monday as a film session or stayed inside completely. Coaches are also stressing the importance of staying hydrated and rested. Cramping is always an early-season concern. Imagine adding 20 degrees to the already high heat index.

Efficiency becomes critical, especially in the morning before the hard deadline of the school bell.

"We're trying to get our bodies acclimated to the heat," said Central senior JJ Clark. "So come Friday, we're all ready and our bodies get used to the sun. They're making us drink a lot. We have to be really hydrated."

“It’s going to be different,” added Memorial junior Simon Schulz. “I still feel like you have to bring the same intensity and tempo. With a good team that we play on Friday night, you have to bring it.”

There could be further impact for Friday night's football games

One thing isn’t quite known yet.

Every Southern Indiana Athletic Conference contest has been pushed back at least one hour. Three games (North-Memorial, Bosse-Central, Mater Dei-Castle) are tentatively slated for 8 p.m. CT kickoffs. Coaches wouldn’t be surprised if it changes again.

North’s Sam McKinney (5) steps back to pass as the Castle Knights play the North Huskies at John Lidy Field in Newburgh, Ind., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.

All thoughts or scenarios are being discussed. Will there be multiple water breaks? An extended halftime? An even later start? Or postpone to Saturday evening when temperatures should be lower?

Hurley noted the Tigers’ pregame routine will be pushed back accordingly and likely not include pads or helmets.

The expected temperature in Evansville on Friday at kickoff is 90 degrees.

“We’d love to play on Friday,” Hurley said. “There’s challenges to playing on Saturday that people don’t think about. You lose a day of recovery and preparation. You're always going to look for the positive. Hopefully, they're taking of themselves the right way and hydrating. Friday night by 8:00, hopefully we can still get it pulled off.”

Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on X, formerly known as Twitter, @kylesokeland.