KAHULUI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two Maui High School junior varsity football players were overcome by the heat during practice on Monday and went to the hospital, raising questions about the Department of Education's lack of a formal policy protecting student athletes during extreme heat.
The public school system is still developing a formal, written policy about curtailing athletes' practices because of high temperatures.
The two players were practicing at Maui High late in the afternoon on the Labor Day holiday when they were overcome with heat exhaustion, DOE officials said.
The National Weather Service said the heat index "feels like" temperature in Kahului was 95 at 4 p.m. Monday and 93 at 5 p.m. while the two-and-a-half hour practice was underway, between 3:45 and 6:30 p.m.
According to the general guidelines used by the DOE, if the heat index reaches higher than 92 degrees, practice should be called off completely and if the heat index is 90 to 92 degrees, practice should be curtailed to just one hour. The heat index combines a number of factors, including temperature, wind and humidity to create the "feels like" temperature.
The DOE said on Monday the parent of one player took him to Maui Memorial Medical Center to receive fluids while emergency crews transported a second football player to Maui Memorial and he was medevaced to Oahu as a precautionary measure. The DOE said neither of the boys had eaten prior to practice that day.
Both boys have recovered and returned to classes but sat out Friday's Maui High JV game against Baldwin High School as a precaution, school officials said.
"Football is probably the highest risk because of the gear and the time of the year and the different physical drills that we have to go through," said Raymond Fujino, the DOE's athletics administrative officer.
Maui High officials showed Hawaii News Now a heat index meter their coaching and training staff used Monday to monitor conditions, but they said the wind speed indicator on the gadget is broken, so the readings may not be totally accurate.
Depending on that heat index, coaches can allow football players to practice without their heavy gear, or can delay or even postpone practice.
The DOE is putting together a formal, written policy about how athletic practices should be curtailed in the high heat that won't be ready until next fall and is using guidelines from the state of Georgia in the meantime.
"The Hawaii High School Athletic Association formulated a committee of athletic trainers and even a doctor was part of that committee to formulate these guidelines," Fujino said.
Maui High officials claim Monday's practice was shortened from three hours to two and a half hours because of the heat. But some parents complain the practice went much longer than that and students were allowed only two water breaks and continued practicing with all their gear in that very high heat.
Maui High JV Football Coach Michael Felcilda declined an interview and said all comments had to come from the principal who was not on campus Friday. In a statement, the DOE said "the coach is following proper procedures."
As a result of the incident, the DOE said Maui High trainers will review practice schedules to see if activities can be readjusted further to minimize exposure.
The school is also sending informational flyers home with students to remind parents of measures they can take before practices to prevent heat stroke, the DOE said.
The DOE has 25 of those heat index meters at high schools across the state but there are more than 40 high schools with athletics programs. The DOE is purchasing more this year so every high school can have one soon, Fujino said.
All DOE coaches and trainers are required to complete the National Federation of State High School Associations training courses which include preventing heat exhaustion and recognizing and treating symptoms.
But parents said Felcilda, the coach, is "old school" and "hard core" and is "constantly pushing the kids, maybe a little too much." And parents said they don't want to speak out in public because they don't want their kids to be punished as a result of their mothers and fathers complaining about the coach.