Ken’s Column: Life itself is more important than winning football games

Published 11:37 pm Monday, July 22, 2019

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I was saddened to hear that a former offensive lineman for the New York Giants, Mitch Petrus, died of a heat stroke on Thursday, July 18, at the age of 32. According to an NBC News report, Petrus was working at his family’s shop in Little Rock, AR when he suffered the fatal heat stroke.

According to this same NBC News report, the high temperature in Little Rock that day was 92 degrees, but the heat index made it feel like 103 degrees.

Having suffered a heat stroke myself back on August 22, 1988 during high school soccer practice, I can tell you that it is no joke. When I was taken to the hospital, I had a temperature of 105 degrees. Fortunately, I pulled through. Unfortunately, not everyone who has a heat stroke is so lucky.

It happens when the body doesn’t have enough electrolytes.

According to an article published on the website, the term “electrolyte” is the umbrella term for particles that carry a positive or negative charge. The article goes on to say that in nutrition, the term “electrolytes” refers to essential minerals found in blood, sweat and urine. When those minerals are dissolved in a fluid, they form electrolytes, which are positive or negative ions used in metabolic processes.

A heat stroke occurs when your internal temperature reaches at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit and it happens when you lose electrolytes. It can cause shock, organ failure, brain damage and even death.

Fortunately, ever since the early 90s, the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) has mandated that football players get an adequate amount of water during practices. In the 80s, when I was playing soccer in high school (Our school played soccer in the fall), it was not that way. Back then and long before then, it was considered “macho” to keep water from the athlete except during designated water breaks, which were few and far between. A friend of mine who played high school football in the late 80s said that back then, it was believed that if you needed water, you were weak.

The football coaches at our area high schools do an excellent job of allowing their players to get as much water whenever they need it during practices. While winning is important and it takes hard work to win, life itself is more important than that.

No athlete should ever have to endure the pain and suffering that heat exhaustion and a heat stroke brings. We all love football, but all of us love life itself even more.

Ken Gustafson is the sports editor for the Americus Times-Recorder. To contact him, email him at, or call 229-924-2751.