Prep football games in Hamilton County will start later due to heat concerns

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Hixson High School football players return to the field after a water break during the first day of practice in pads on July 24. The season kicked off last week.

With the heat index rising to its highest levels of the summer in the Chattanooga area this week, officials for Hamilton County Schools have moved kickoff times for Friday's high school football games in the county back by 30 minutes to 8 p.m.

Unaffected by the change are private schools in the county as well Hamilton County high school football teams playing away games outside the county. However, the Red Bank at Rhea County game has also been moved to an 8 p.m. start.

The National Weather Service forecast for Friday in Chattanooga calls for temperatures to reach 98 degrees with a heat index as high as 106 degrees with very little wind. The heat index includes humidity as a factor.

"The safety of our student-athletes is always our number one priority," said Tim James, the athletic director for Hamilton County Schools and a former football coach. "Looking at the forecast, with an extreme heat advisory in effect until after 7 p.m., we wanted to take every precautionary measure and err on the side of safety.

"We also wanted to make the fan experience more pleasant since nobody wants to sit in the stands in that type of heat and humidity."

According to the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association's heat policy — which was revised in 2021, and which every member school must follow — each school is responsible for obtaining either a wet bulb globe temperature or heat index reading for practices, scrimmages and games.

If the heat index rises above 104 degrees, teams are not allowed to practice outdoors and competitions must be postponed. According to the prep sports governing body's policy, "Under no circumstances can an outdoor practice or scrimmage take place in these conditions."

Should the heat index — or "feels like" temperature — register from 100 to 104 degrees, teams are mandated to practice for no more than one hour, with ample water breaks for all athletes at all times and no conditioning activities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, more than 9,000 high school athletes are treated for heat-related illness annually.

Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].