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Parents, students deal with record-breaking heat to start football season

Fans sitting in bleachers at Briarwood Christian HS football game
Rashah McChesney
Gulf States Newsroom
After record-breaking heat across the Gulf South, Briarwood Christian School and others across Alabama and Mississippi pushed back the kickoff times for high school football games like this season opener on Friday, August 25, 2023 near Birmingham, Alabama.

The stands at Briarwood Christian School’s Lion’s Pride stadium in Birmingham were packed with families carrying fans, coolers of ice, and cold drinks as they settled in to watch the first high school football game of the season.

Three-year-old Layla Shepherd is draped over her father Victor’s shoulders as he carries her to their seats to settle in and watch his other daughter cheer. Both of them are shiny with sweat.

This game started a half-hour later than usual, in an attempt to combat the scorching summer temperatures. But, Victor Shepherd said, it wasn’t worth it.

“That 30 minutes was really a waste of time, cause the heat still going to be the heat no matter what,” he said.

Young girl sits on fathers shoulders
Rashah McChesney
Gulf States Newsroom
Victor Shepherd carries his daughter Layla Shepherd, 3, as the two head for the stands during the football game between Briarwood Christian School and Clay Chalkville High School on Friday, August 25, 2023 near Birmingham, Alabama. The game start was delayed by 30 minutes due to extreme heat, but Shepherd isn’t convinced it made much of a difference.

Shepherd, whose toddler has that far-off stare of someone who needs a nap, said they’ll probably be in the stands until at least 11:30 p.m.

“But, you know, whatever it takes to helps the kids, I’m with it,” he said.

This has been a record-breaking summer across the country and particularly in the Gulf South in August. Several cities between Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama shattered their all-time high temperature records. In New Orleans, the city reached a suffocating 105 degrees, Gulfport Mississippi hit 107 degrees while Mobile, Alabama reached 106.

In response, last week the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Mississippi High School Activities Association announced they were offering teams the opportunity to delay kickoff times. Mississippi mandated teams delay games an hour later than the usual 7 p.m. kick off. While, Alabama gave schools the option to delay start times, but with a few conditions; coaches along with officials would had to agree on the start time, a quarter cannot start after midnight, and the game cannot continue after 12:30 a.m.

Woman in cowboy hat and blue shirt holds water bottles and yells
Rashah McChesney
Gulf States Newsroom
Missy Leonard cheers for the students and passes out frozen water bottles during a football game between Briarwood Christian School and Clay Chalkville High School on Friday, August 25, 2023 near Birmingham, Alabama. Leonard, grew up in the South said recent sustained high temperatures are unusual.

Missy Leonard said she grew up in the South and is used to hot Alabama summers, but this recent heat wave has been unbelievable.

“I mean it has been consistently at these temps for now like…weeks,” she said. “Actually, the girls came to our house before the game and I was like, ‘at what point do they call off school?’”

Leonard is a cheer mom at Briarwood. She, along with other parents, said they are trying everything to keep their children cool.

“We did do some things to prep that we don’t normally do,” she said. “Like we brought a cooler, – my co-team-parent brought a cooler - of frozen, wet cloths. We brought an additional cooler of water just to help keep everybody hydrated. We brought liquid IV.”

Erica Booker, a band mom at Clay Chalkville, said parents brought multiple bags of ice and water bottles attempting to counter the exhausting temperatures.

“We had cold water that was already in the refrigerator just so that we could have something for the band to cool them off and everything was still melted and the water bottles got hot,” Booker said.

 Sweaty high school football players stand with their hands over their hearts
Rashah McChesney
Gulf States Newsroom
(right) Randell Cole, a defensive tackle for Clay Chalkville High School said a 30-minute kickoff delay for his team’s recent game against Briarwood Christian didn’t help much with the stifling heat on Friday, August 25, 2023 near Birmingham, Alabama. Cole his team worked hard to keep players cool but he still cramped mid-game due to the heat.

Some players and parents said the half-hour or hour delay of kickoff just isn’t enough time.

“The 30 minutes did not help, it did not help enough,” said Clay Chalkville junior defensive tackle Randell Cole.

In the weeks leading up to the game, Cole said the coaching staff and trainers worked hard to keep players cool - like ice baths, and keeping players hydrated. However, he still started cramping mid-game due to the heat. “Other than that we kept playing through it, kept playing the other team and didn’t let the heat beat us…we were ready for today,” Cole said.

His team walked away with a 31-0 victory.

There was one group who didn’t seem to mind the heat– the student section in the stands cheering for Briarwood. Some said the 30-minute delay did help, and kept them from having to sit directly in the setting sun.

And, although they didn’t win – they were clearly excited, yelling and throwing confetti in the air.

Lynnlee Briggs said she drank a “ton” of water and was hyped up for the game. While Caroline Goocher said she stayed near an air conditioner as long as possible before heading to the game. She said she’s excited to have a good season with her classmates.

“It’s definitely hot, but I think we’re all excited to cheer on our team tonight,” Goocher said.

There’s cooler weather for Alabama’s teams going into the second weekend of games. A Birmingham school district spokesperson said there are not any game delays planned.

In Mississippi, the high school activities association announced its schools will be back to regular game start times at 7 p.m.

Joseph King is the sports and culture fellow for the Gulf States Newsroom, a regional collaboration between NPR and member stations in Alabama (WBHM), Mississippi (MPB) and Louisiana (WWNO and WRKF).