SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - It takes more than 107 degrees in the shade to stop a true Texas tradition, as high school students jogged onto fields made rock solid by ten months of unrelenting drought to mark the first week of high school football practice.
Intense heat to begin two-a-day practices is not unusual in Texas, but this week's record breaking temperatures will test even the toughest warrior, as well as the armies of coaches, cheerleaders, and marching band members who participate in the state's legendary high school football.
In Texas, high school football is nearly a religion, highlighted by a television drama series "Friday Night Lights" that follows the lives of a Texas high school football team and its entourage.
In the real thing, the key to survival in the heat is water, and plenty of it, according to veteran San Antonio high school athletic trainer Paul 'Doc' Rost.
"Basically right now we have hydration stations set out where a kid can go at any time and get a drink," Rost said. "I tell 'em, if you're thirsty when you get out here, you're dehydrated already."
Head Coach Paul Johnson at Dallas Madison High School was on the field before dawn this morning, making sure enough water was available.
"We're going to keep a lot of water, we have water stations down here we have water stations up there, plenty of shade, so kids can go whenever they get ready," he said on Monday.
Many Texas high schools are starting morning practice at seven and running afternoon practice from six to dark, to avoid the punishing heat of the afternoon.
Something else that is lost in searing weather is the macho mind state which is easy to find in high school sports, where players "tough it out" through injuries and illness.
Stan Laing, Athletic Director in the San Antonio Northside School District said all coaches know exactly what to do in extreme heat. They encourage all students to immediately report problems, and assure them that grabbing an extra drink of water or sitting in the shade for a while will not lead to allegations that they are "soft."
"When in doubt, set 'em out is our motto with our kids," he said.
Football leads to more non-fatal, heat-related emergency room visits than any other activity in the United States, according to a report issued on last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A study of 66 hospitals from 2001-2009 found that nearly one-fourth of all emergency rooms visits for a heat illness were attributed to football.
For males between the ages of 15-19, football was linked to 57 percent of the non-fatal emergency room visits for heat illnesses, the study said.
In Texas, the month that ended on Sunday was the hottest July in many places in Texas since records began, according to the National Weather Service. That was topped by a reading of 111 degrees in Wichita Falls, northwest of Ft. Worth, set on July 9th.
(Editing by Greg McCune)