Zachary Martin Act will help keep athletes safe in Florida heat


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As part of the Zachary Martin Act, which went into effect last month, teams are required to have an ice tub at all outdoor practices.

Carl Kotala

A new law that will help protect high school athletes from the dangers of heat-related illness went into effect last month.

The Zachary Martin Act requires heat-illness training and life-saving equipment for all Florida High School Athletic Association member schools.

The bill was named after Riverdale High School football player Zachary Martin-Polsenberg, who died 11 days after collapsing during a summer football workout due to heat-related illness in 2017. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in June.

“The Zachary Martin Act is another avenue for schools and the FHSAA to protect our student athletes, which is our No. 1 priority,” Viera High School athletic director Maggie Davis wrote in an email. “Florida humidity and heat index comes with many challenges for our athletes and coaches.

“With this act and all necessary equipment, such as a wet bulb thermometer and a cooling station at all practices, it will help ensure the safety of our athletes at all times.

“We have implemented cooling stations at all outside sports, including cross country, golf and football for the fall sports. This act will continue into winter sports such as soccer and spring sports such as lacrosse. We at VHS fully support FHSAA in the implementation of this act and intend to follow all necessary protocols in order to make our athletic programs as safe as possible.”

Holy Trinity football coach Nate Hooks Jr. said he supported the law and added that with an average roster size of less than 30 players, he has always made sure his players get several water breaks during practice.

“With limited numbers, I’ve been doing that since I’ve been here,” said Hooks, who is entering his seventh season.

The Tigers are expected to get even more water breaks this season.

Viera coach Derek Smith is a big proponent of the act, noting that Florida’s heat and humidity, combined with the insurgence of artificial turf fields can be a dangerous combination.

Smith pointed out the use of the wet bulb global thermometers, which determines whether conditions are safe for practice. The cold immersion tubs filled with ice have proven to be critical in treating athletes with a heat-related illness.

“I think we’ve been using common sense when it comes to heat illness and heat exhaustion when it comes to water breaks anyway as coaches,” Smith said. “But this wet bulb puts a little more math behind it, and it does show you how hot it gets.

“I don’t mind this act because it gives us the tools and the education to be held to an accountable standard that will keep kids in a safer atmosphere.”

Smith also praised the way Brevard Public Schools have reacted to the new law. The district provided each high school with two ice tubs and two wet bulb global thermometers. Middle schools got one of each.

“Brevard County Public Schools has been proactive,” Smith said. “They’re giving us an opportunity to be prepared for this act that’s come in. As a high school program, we were already prepared. We already had four water tubs. You’ve got to use caution.”

Smith also had a blunt message for anyone who has a problem with the Zachary Martin Act.

“If anybody doesn’t like this idea, shame on them,” the Viera football coach said. “Any of us that have been in Florida for more than six months understands how hot it gets over the summer. And you know what, football is played in August.

“August is one of the hottest months on the calendar and it’s nasty. We’ve got to be prepared to make sure a kid doesn’t die.”