When water was for Sissies By Billy Dale
Joe Good is a fictional football player trying out for the Core Heat AA High School football team in a West Texas town in 1961. It is a time when Coaches believed that drinking water during football practice was for sissies. During the first 4 minutes of conditioning drill on the first day of practice on a hot humid day in late August 1961 Joe Good became another statistic of the "water is for sissies" conviction. Joe died when his core temperature reached 108 degrees and all his organs shut down.
In 1961 medical professionals were still researching the significance of dehydration in the death spiral. Joe Good died because dehydration made his blood thicker which increased his heart rate and decreased the amount of blood his heart could pump with each beat. To exacerbate Joe's problem dehydration made it harder for his fat to get into his muscles to be used for fuel. Instead his muscles burned the limited sugars (glycogen) already there.
Since the full dynamics of the role dehydration plays in heat stroke was unknown to the Coaches in 1961 at Core Heat High School , they continued to use "proven" techniques learned from past generations of Coaches to “motivate” their athletes. Bear Bryant's Coaching style from the 50's was one of them.
In Junction Boys by Jim Dent he says that Bryant was aware of a couple of death's due to heatstroke in 1954 , but one of his trainers reasoned "Hell you never pour ice water into a car's hot radiator. So why pour ice water into a hot boy." That logic almost cost the life of Billy Schroeder at a practice in Junction, but Coach Bryant still did not permit water at practice. Cotton mouth was prevalent and even the great Jack Pardee said " I'm so thirsty that I can't even make spit."
All the players at Core Heat High School knew not to ask for water during work-out because it was tantamount to admitting to a character flaw or a weak spirit. The other myth past down from coaches in the 40's and 50's promoted screaming, cajoling, and spewing insulting remarks at players as proven "motivational" techniques. It was during conditioning drills that all these techniques came into play. Conditioning exercises allowed Coaches insight into the “character” of their athletes. It was a time to separate the “sissies” from the "men".
In Junction Boys by Jim Dent Coach Bryant ask two seniors "what is wrong with the team?" Marvin Tate responded" ......players are getting tired of being cussed all the time." "I've never been called so many names in my life, Coach. Every time I turn around, one of the coaches is making fun of somebody's mother."
On the day of Joe’s death his brain sent him a message. It said slow down because you are fatigued and your core temperature is rising. Joe did exactly what his mind said, but the Coach interpreted Joe’s slower pace as laziness and gave Joe a symbolic “kick in the butt" using cajoling and derogatory remarks as the "motivational" techniques of choice.
In particular, screaming, cajoling, and insults were a flawed technique for Joe's particular personality. Joe was a proud individual who wanted to make the team at all cost so the verbal kicks were not effective. His Coaches comments only served to embarrass him in front of his peers. According to Coach Darrell Royal “ When you take pride away from a player, you've destroyed the best tool you've got. If you hurt him, you've hurt the team."
Joe's pride was hurt, but his motivation to make the team remained intact. Joe was a normal 17 year old boy trying to find his way in life. He wanted recognition and a sense of belonging. Football offered him that chance. He wanted the adoration of all the pretty girls , attention at parties, respect from peers, and recognition from the residence of his hometown. He had no desire to play beyond his high school years, and a college education was not in his future. Making the team would be a major benchmark in his life. Joe was willing to use samurai warrior techniques to make the the team so he pushed himself harder during the conditioning drills. Joe's decision to push harder when his mind said slow down was the final bad decision in a perfect storm of events that took his life .
Joe's positive attributes- a hard working attitude, determination to succeed , and his never quit mentality- combined with a hot humid day , a coach who pushed too hard, and a refusal to listen to his body caused his death. If only one of these factors had not been present Joe would still be alive.
Joe’s death was only covered locally. A reflection of the national mindset of the media and general populous in the 60’s. A death of an athlete at practice was not worthy of national news. Everyone of course was sad at Joe's passing, but fans who loved football understood that “inherently uncontrollable risks” are part of the game and Joe knew that risk. One year later two events will shock the sports world. All fans would learn that dying from dehydration is not an inherently uncontrollable risk. It is in fact controllable and preventable.
Most coaches at the University level prior to 1962 followed the “truism” that water is for sissies. Royal’s football program adhered to this belief. Coach Royal wanted tough players so he had tough workouts with lots of conditioning. I know because I played for him in the late 60’s on two national championship teams. Royal said "Football is a physical contact, spartan game. You don't go out there for any taffy-pull......" Under Royal’s regime only the strongest survived.
In 1962 two real heat related deaths in the SWC exposed the belief that water is for sissies as a fraud. It would forever change the dynamics of hydration at practice.
Pat Culpepper’s played ball for the Horns in the early 60’s and he wrote an Orange Blood thread about what happened in 1962 that finally exposed “water is for sissies” as an imposter.
He says, “We (Longhorns) had come through two weeks of full pad practices in the Austin heat and humidity. There were water breaks for the first time because of heat problems around the Southwest Conference. In fact, we had five players taken to Breckenridge Hospital with heat dehydration. Only one never made it back - Reggie Grob from Houston. He died along with the senior captain from SMU, Mike Kelsey. Doctors thought the new plastic shoulder pads had something to do with the heat problems. Most of us wore expensive leather shoulder pads that actually got wet with our sweat which let some air through the jerseys while the plastic pads encased the player and did not allow any air. Before those youngsters died we never got water breaks, but our head coach Darrell Royal, as other coaches learned a tragic lesson. We went to Reggie's memorial service in Houston as a team in two buses on Monday of our first game.
Pat is referring to the deaths of Mike Kelsey, the starting center for SMU and Reggie Grob from Texas who had heat stroke on the same day as Mike but who survived for 17 days before succumbing to liver and kidney failure. Reggie was 19 years old. At the time of Reggie’s passing only salt tablets were offered to reduce dehydration during practice.
According to Jones Ramsey (Sports Information Director) Coach Royal was devastated by Reggie’s death and “collapses and cries” in the huge arms of Defensive Line Coach Charley Shria.
Bill Little said about Reggie " In a very real sense, his death meant that thousands and thousands have lived. Out of tragedy, he gave us all a gift. And that's why he's a legend".
Juan Conde says "I was already working as assistant equipment manager when Reggie passed away from heat exhaustion. I also recall Frank Medina tending him vigorously and the arrival of the ambulance. This incident took place at the old practice field across the creek and across from memorial stadium where practices were held. Coach Royal took Reggie’s death very hard."
The death of Reggie and Mike was a wake up call for all who are associated with sports. Doctors, led by the American Medical Association, began immediate research on the effects of heat on the human body. Within a year, Universities mandated more liquids be served to athletes during work-outs and games.
At the high school changes were slower. Some states were proactive and moved quickly to change workout routines. State athletic associations and individual school districts mandated limited practices during certain times of day, and practice days without full pads so that athletes could acclimate to the weather. Other states struggled to make changes to protect athletes. As of 2018 one state representative is still struggling to pass a bill that would require head coaches and assistant coaches of interscholastic or intramural sports to complete an education course on heat-related medical issues that could arise from a student athlete's training. In 2009 a Kentucky coach faced reckless homicide and wanton-endangerment charges in connection with 15-year-old heat related death. It was alleged that his players were in full gear, and several of them were denied water and told to keep running wind sprints -- called "gassers" -- in 94 degree heat, even after vomiting. It was learned that the boy who died was taking amphetamine Adderall for an attention deficit disorder which affects the body's ability to thermal regulate. The coach was acquitted by a jury in two hours, but yet another lesson was learned at the expense of a young boy. In 2011 two football players and one coach died after practise in scorching temperatures.
Education and hydration are the answer to ZERO deaths from heat stroke.
Stopping heat stroke deaths takes a combination of adequate hydration and coaches that understand the causes and symptoms of heat stroke.
The 1960's was the beginning of the educational process that still continues. The learning curve to eliminate heat stroke is still costing lives of many boys. In 1962 we learned that the new plastic shoulder pads did not allow air ventilation and was the primary suspect in the deaths of Mike and Reggie. In 2009 we learned that a prescription amphetamines combined with a strenuous workout could precipitate a death. In the decade of the 2000's the death rate due to heat stroke rose for the first time in 40 years. We learned that one of the reasons is due to the enormous size of the high school athletes. Doctors state that their weight is more fat than muscle and even if this athlete is hydrated fat makes it harder for the body to dissipate heat and could cause heat stroke. Quite frankly if Joe Good had played ball in 2018 instead of 1961 he may still have died.
1960’s- 42 deaths 1970’s – 31 deaths 1980’s – 14 deaths 1990’s – 14 deaths 2000’s - 29 deaths
Research At the college level based on an ANNUAL SURVEY OF FOOTBALL INJURY RESEARCH from 1931 - 2014 by Kristen L. Kucera, MSPH, PhD, ATC Director, National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the worst decades for heat stroke were in the 60’s and 70’s.
From my perspective 56 years after Reggie's death and Bill Littles positive comment that Reggies "death meant that thousands and thousands have lived" . "Out of tragedy, he gave us all a gift". "And that's why he's a legend" is still true but somewhat tainted by the lessons still not learned after 56 years. From my perspective it is inexcusable for one athlete to die from heat stroke in 2018. Shame on any system that knows the causes of heat stroke, but refuses to follow protocol to prevent it. Until the system becomes more disciplined and educated more preventable deaths of young boys will continue and their families will suffer the consequences.
Billy Dale- Proud member of the 1967 football recruiting class.
Mark Walters says was a trainer for Augie Garrido:
I really enjoyed your article, and as we approach the summer months, the importance of keeping well hydrated has not always been in the forethought of our coaches in years past. The mid-60s was in an interesting time in sports science, where you had your traditional old school coaches like Royal, Bear Bryant, and Woody Hayes who kept with the tried and true coaching philosophy of no pain, no gain; going against advances in sports-science. The coaching models of the time often butted heads with sport-scientists who wanted to introduce medical based training models with the old guard but were often rebutted.
Where hydration is concerned, one of the forefathers is Robert Cade, a San Antonio native, and UT grad and medical school grad. Cade went on to become a professor at the University of Florida, and after doing research about dehydration with members of the Florida football team, he became a founding inventor of a product called Gatorade.
UT does a great deal of research in the field of sports-science. Where Gatorade is a high carbohydrate drink, Dr. Lisa Ferguson-Stegall at UT recently published a paper on a low-carb beverage with added protein that increases endurance times in cyclists. Dr. John Ivy, one of the nations top researchers has pioneered our understanding of muscle metabolism and how nutritional supplementation can improve exercise performance, recovery and training adaptation. Where at one time there may have been a divisive line between coaches and those outside the direct control of the program, today there is a co-joined relationship that feeds off one another to make sure that the best product is put on the field every Saturday in the fall.