High school student-athletes reported to school Monday to begin preparations for the upcoming Alabama High School Athletic Association football, volleyball, cross country and swimming seasons. And as in years past, the emphasis on health and safety is upper most on all coaches and administrators’ minds. Beginning today, the AHSAA is producing a series that will provide insight concerning the best health and safety practices of its member schools and the many areas of focus that are making sports safer in 2015-16. Football teams will be following AHSAA practice regulations that were recommendations in 2014-15. While most schools were already following these best health and safety practices, the contact limitation regulations are now required. Additionally, with the hot August days ahead, schools are also following guidelines that limit the length of football practices and that prohibit two straight days of two-a-day practices. All high schools and middle schools were required to attend a mandatory session presented by the AHSAA Medical Advisory Committee at the recent AHSAA Summer Conference in Montgomery. The session dealt chiefly with heat illness awareness, concussion awareness and Emergency Action Plans (EAP). All schools are required to have EAPs for practice and games at each venue. Vestavia Hills High School football coach Buddy Anderson, the state’s all-time prep leader in wins with 311 heading into his 38t h season as head coach and 44 th season overall, says the game of high school football is now safer than ever before. “Health and safety have always been our number one priorities,” said Anderson, who owns a 311-132 record as the Rebels’ head football coach. “As much as I believe in athletics, and as much as I believe in the values that football teaches, health and safety is the number one thing. “We leave it up to our doctors and our trainer to let us know if someone does not need to practice or does not need to play. That is totally left up to them because they are the ones that know more about young lady or young man and if they are able to do the things we are asking them to do. That’s our main goal … their health and safety.” Anderson said the attention placed on heat and concussion awareness by the AHSAA is among the chief reasons the game is safer today. He remembers a time when coaches were left on their own to learn what they could. “When I first started coaching, we would go to conferences to learn what we could,” he said. “Back then we were our own trainers and now we are very fortunate to have certified trainers (at practices and games).” He remembers one incident in the late 1980s that resonates still today. He admitted they had limited knowledge then but put into practice what they knew. “We had an incident with a player who ended up with a heat stroke,” Anderson said. “We as coaches iced him down, put him in an ice bath and put ice on all the pressure points. The paramedics came and as they were getting ready to transport him they took the ice off. They didn’t even know the right protocol, but we had studied to know that and felt like we ended up saving the young man’s life.” Anderson said they found out later that he had been taking medicine that affected his ability to cool down. “He was in great shape and he was going to be recruited and ended up having a great career at Southern Miss’” Anderson said. “He felt like he was coming down with a cold, so he had taken an antihistamine to clear up the cold.” The doctor learned from his mother that the player had been taking the medication. “His antihistamine level was off the chart, the doctor told us. “It didn’t dawn on me (then) but antihistamines dry you up. You know, when you are out practicing in the heat that makes it even worse. The doctor said he was about 25 times more susceptible of getting a heat stroke, so the next thing we did was find out which kids were on an antihistamine. “ “We realized too that a lot of teenagers are taking stuff for acne which also dries the skin up … and I had been to all these clinics and had not heard that. It started coming out about these kinds of concerns. You have to be ahead of the game.’’ When practice started Monday, Anderson’s trainer knew each student that might be taking medication and kept an eye on those especially. Anderson said this is common practice now – not just at Vestavia Hills but at all AHSAA member schools. Anderson said he is thankful that many schools now have certified athletic trainers. “We try to be as proactive as we can on that. We still go to clinics to learn about more, and our trainer is updating himself for anything that he needs to be aware of.” The veteran coach said emergency action plans are also now a way of life at his school. “We have our emergency action plan,” Anderson said, “That is meticulous and well thought out. It has transferred over into all areas whether it is a practice or a game or anything like that. We have an EAP for every sport and every venue (now).” Tomorrow: What AHSAA Schools do to make practices safer!