Patrick Clancy, his brother Ryan and nine other teens went to an 8am soccer practice at Monticello High School on an artificial turf field July 21, the second day of a National Weather Service heat advisory.
The two-hour practice ended around 10am, when the heat advisory officially kicked in. By 11:30am, Patrick was in the emergency room at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital being treated for heat exhaustion. C-VILLE Weekly has spoken to the parents of three other boys who were affected by the heat that day.
The response from Monticello High: Conditions were not adverse, the practice met Virginia High School League guidelines and Patrick should have brought more water.
His mother, Emily Clancy, doesn’t buy that response. A soccer player herself and a former soccer coach, she’s convinced VHSL guidelines were not followed and she’s on a crusade to get the word out about the dangers of practices on heat advisory days.
Because she worries that if she hadn’t been home that day, Patrick could have died.
It’s happened before in Albemarle County. In 2005, 18-year-old Kelly Watt, a recent Albemarle High grad and cross country runner, was preparing to go that fall to the College of William & Mary, where he’d been recruited. He took a run on a scorching July day and died from heat stroke.
Patrick, 16, went to the out-of-season practice because he wanted a position on the starting team. “We felt like we needed to prove it to the coach by showing up,” he says.
He brought two 32-ounce bottles of water and says on the artificial turf field, “you could feel [the heat] through your cleats.”
About two-thirds of the way through the practice, “I stopped sweating,” Patrick says. He also says he stopped feeling hot, but didn’t feel cool, either. “I was in a weird state of feeling dizzy and sick.”
“I’ve been playing soccer all my life,” says Ryan Clancy, now 18. “That day was the worst I ever felt. I felt like throwing up. One kid had to sit out because of the heat. Others said to me, ‘It’s so hot I think I’m going to die.’”
After the practice and helping put away equipment, by 10:15am Patrick was having a hard time getting into the car and he could hardly talk, says Ryan. “I thought when he was in the car, the air conditioning would help. I had to carry him into the house. He was so pale and shaking.”
Emily Clancy knew Patrick was in trouble as soon as he came in the house. He was crawling up the stairs, had stopped perspiring and couldn’t talk. “I got him in the shower immediately,” she says. “He couldn’t stand. He had to sit on the shower floor. His fingers were turning blue and he threw up.”
When he didn’t seem to be cooling down in the shower, she moved him to the bathtub and tried to give him water, but he threw up again, she says. He was having trouble breathing, and his toes and fingers were blue. That’s when she took him to Martha Jefferson.
After many IVs and several hours later, Patrick walked out of the emergency room with a diagnosis of heat exhaustion.
“I was mad,” says Emily Clancy. “Those conditions should never have happened.”
The coach, Stuart Pierson, emailed Clancy July 23 to say he’d gotten the medical note that Ryan brought July 22, was happy to hear Patrick was feeling better and reminded her that each player was supposed to bring a 2-liter jug of water to each practice.
“He blamed it on my 16-year-old son for not bringing enough water,” says Clancy, who says she’s licensed by the U.S. Soccer Federation and has coached for 11 years. “I’m very familiar with what coaches are supposed to know.”
Pierson, who is no longer coaching at Monticello High, declined to comment.
Clancy doesn’t believe the practice should have taken place outdoors during a heat advisory on a day with no cloud cover, no shade breaks and with no extra water offered to the players.
Matthew Pearman, the athletic director at Monticello, says there was an adequate supply of bottled water available in the coach’s vehicle parked inside the stadium, a water fountain available next to the stadium restrooms and water and ice available in the concession stand that students and coaches can access.
That water was never offered to the students and the concession stand was locked, says Clancy.
According to the National Weather Service, the heat index factors in both the temperature and relative humidity to measure how hot it really feels. And on days with full sun, the heat index can increase up to 15 degrees.
The artificial turf field exacerbated the problem, says Clancy, and VHSL guidelines say to add 35 to 55 degrees to the heat index if not playing on grass.
By 8am she calculates the heat index on the turf field in full sun was 108 degrees and by 10am it was at least 127 degrees—all in violation of VHSL guidelines, which says the maximum heat index should be 105 degrees for an outdoor practice.
That was not the conclusion athletic director Pearman reached.
He writes in an email that when the practice began at 8am, “the air temperature was 80 degrees with a heat index of 83.” When practice ended at 10am, “The air temperature was 88 degrees with a heat index of 92,” conditions “well within the VHSL Heat Guidelines, which recommend no outside activities when the heat index/humiture is 105 or higher.”
The discrepancy, believes Clancy, is that Pearman does not add 15 degrees for the full sun, nor did he include the artificial turf factor. Pearman says VHSL guidelines were followed that day.
He conducted his own investigation on a day in which he says the weather conditions were the same as July 21. Clancy scoffs that such a comparison is possible. “How in the world can you duplicate heat advisory conditions?”
In an email to Clancy, he says when he measured the turf with a psychrometer, it was 4 degrees warmer than grass. “Our determination remained, after this comparative reading, that the conditions on the morning of July 21 were not adverse,” he writes.
Not satisfied, Clancy appealed to the school’s principal and then filed a complaint with the Albemarle County schools administration.
And her sons began to experience bullying from other students and from the school administration, she says.
“Last year a lot of players were harassing me, saying, ‘What’s your mom doing? We’re trying to win,’” says Ryan Clancy. “I said, ‘My brother almost died.’ They said, ‘I don’t care.’”
And then Ryan found he was blocked on Pearman’s @MonticelloAD Twitter account. “I already felt bullied,” says Ryan.
Says Pearman, “@MonticelloAD is my personal, not school, Twitter account.” He’s says it’s not unusual to block “when a person responds to one of these posts with negative or inaccurate information,” a situation Ryan denies happened—and is unhappy that Pearman would make that allegation.
B.J. Morris’ son was also at the July 21 practice. “I found my son sprawled out under a tree,” she says. “He felt bad with a headache and nausea.”
Not all parents think conditions July 21 were that bad.
“My son was at the same practice,” says Gregg Scheibel. He says the coach told him his son was “huffing and puffing” and sat him down and gave him some water.
Scheibel says the practices were voluntary and the temperature was in the low 80s. “When you play in the heat, you take on certain risks,” he says. That’s why the athletes have physicals, he adds.
Scheibel started a petition to bring Pierson back, and he says the coach resigned because of Clancy’s complaints. The school has had four soccer coaches in the past few years.
“We’ve got an unhinged woman who has a vendetta against coaches at Monticello High,” he asserts.
“If I’ve seen a coach harming a child, I’ve spoken up,” says Clancy. “If that means I’m unhinged…”
Clancy says she’s been asked to meet with the county’s Student Health Advisory Board. And she appeared before the Albemarle County School Board February 8, and says she gave them information on what can be done to avoid such situations as the weather warms up, including posting signs warning about the extreme heat on artificial turf fields in hot weather.
“I didn’t just complain,” she says. “I have a deep fear of this happening again and I came up with solutions.”
She says she’s had parents blame her for allowing her sons to practice that day. And she says she’s blamed herself for trusting that the coach would not have them playing outdoors in full sun on a heat advisory day.
She’s also been reminded that her sons could have sat out if they were too hot, but both Patrick and Ryan say they wouldn’t have done that.
“Boys don’t do that,” Clancy agrees. “You think as an athlete you have to get to the next level. You push through.” And boys don’t think their coach would put them in harm’s way, she adds.
Because of the heat exhaustion, Patrick will be susceptible to heat in the future, she says.
Patrick, who was on the varsity team as a freshman last year, will not be playing soccer this spring, and he opted for the swim team over the winter. “Ryan and I really do like soccer, but with the coaching staff and what’s going on,” he says, they decided to forego the season.
He doesn’t want what happened to him to happen to anyone else. “I felt lucky,” says Patrick. “It could have been much worse.”
While denying that conditions were dangerous July 21, Pearman says the school will take additional precautions in the future. Certified athletic trainers will be present at summer practices and the school division’s Student Health Advisory Board will be reviewing the VHSL heat guidelines “to determine if we need to make the guidelines we follow more restrictive,” he says.
“Our primary focus is on providing our student-athletes a safe environment in which to represent Monticello High School while participating in the sports/activities they love,” he says. “Any team’s chances of winning are immaterial to that focus.”
That’s one thing about which he and Clancy can agree.
“I still have nightmares that I can’t wake my son,” she says, haunted by the thought, “What if I wasn’t home?”
Urgent cool down
John MacKnight, medical director for sports medicine at UVA, says the symptoms of heat exhaustion—fatigue, lethargy, headache, nausea, cramping—can “absolutely” turn to heat stroke if the victim has stopped sweating, is “grossly disoriented” and loses consciousness.
If a person is no longer cognitively present—”if they can’t give facts—they’re in the heat stroke range,” he says. A rectal temperature of 104 degrees is the “catastrophic” range when one loses function because he’s too hot.
“Once you’ve lost the ability to dissipate core temperature, then the wheels really fall off the cart,” he says.
With heat exhaustion, cooling with cold towels, shade, air conditioning, shower and drinking water or Gatorade “usually perks them up,” he says. If that doesn’t turn the person around, it’s time for more aggressive treatment, he says, and that’s why cold tubs are at sporting events.
“Time is brain, time is muscle, time is heart,” says MacKnight. And while the practice used to be to call an ambulance, MacKnight says every minute counts, and cooling should start immediately because “every minute that your body is subjected to markedly high temps has a potential for damage. The longer the time, the more the damage. Try to bring the temperature down immediately.”
He also says that people who’ve been ill are more likely to be dehydrated from medications they’ve taken, which can “push you over the edge.” And for people with attention deficit disorder who are taking stimulants, that’s not good for training in heat and makes it harder for their bodies to get rid of heat.
“I don’t think there’s any question” that playing on artificial turf makes for hotter conditions, MacKnight says. “If the ambient temperature is 95 degrees, the field could be 125 degrees.”
Where he’s most likely to see heat exhaustion is at cross country and distance events. “Temperature doesn’t play as much a role as humidity,” he says. “With no cloud cover, kids are going to struggle.” And when it’s hot, humid and sunny, “the stars align.”
Says MacKnight, “Most of the time when people have an issue, it’s almost always a perfect storm condition.”