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Student band members, athletes cope with hot weather
Elements are part of Georgia summer weather
Gainesville High Marching Band feature twirler Alexis Smith practices as other band members work on their half-time show Tuesday morning. The band gets their summer practice in during the cooler morning hours.

Athletic shorts and tank-tops might not be dress code appropriate, but they were necessary for the Gainesville High School Marching Band members on the practice field Tuesday.

The field was bordered with coolers, Powerade and water bottles, and band members donned sunglasses, ball caps and sweat-absorbing bandannas as the band tried to withstand the high temperature that, with the heat index, topped 90 degrees.

"This is my fourth year being out here, so I don't really realize it," said dance team captain Kenisha Tillmutt, a rising senior. "It's just hot."

The most important thing to practicing outside is making sure band members are hydrated, Gainesville High band director Larry Miller said.

"They have to treat themselves like an athlete," he said. "They have sunglasses, sunscreen, hats, anything that can help keep the direct heat off of them."

The band is practicing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this week, getting prepped for the start of football season. The first few hours are spent outside, but in peak heat, everyone moves either to shade or indoors for sectional practice, said Nicole Thompson, a first-grade teacher at Centennial Arts Academy who sponsors the twirlers.

Band members at R.W. Johnson High School are following a similar schedule, partially to keep students' concentration in check.

"It diminishes the attention span more than it does morale," band director David Jones said. "When it's so hot you feel miserable, it's hard to concentrate."

The Red Elephants are practicing this week as well, but Head Coach Bruce Miller said the team is only working for an hour at a time, becoming acclimated to working in the heat.

"We're trying to build up to staying after school to practice for two hours," Bruce Miller said. "We have water there constantly for the players."

Like the band, athletes are given frequent water breaks. Both band members and football players are expected to eat right prior to practice.

"Don't drink sodas, don't drink a lot of caffeine. These kids get done with practice and that's what they want to go drink," Bruce Miller said.

Bruce Miller said the biggest problem with the football team was making sure players are dressed properly for the conditions.

"We tell them to wear light clothing. The thing to worry about is these new kids who show up in a thick cotton shirt and he can't get any air to his body," he said.

"Most of the kids have been here long enough to know about that."

Miller said the team's trainer carries an instrument to tell what the heat index is, and if it is above a certain temperature, the team will wait to practice.

"Football's one of those sports that you live for Friday nights," Bruce Miller said. "You've got to battle the elements as well as your opponents."

The elements aren't going to let up anytime soon.

"I heard on the news it may be October before we see a break in the weather," said Gordon Higgins, Hall County Schools director of community relations and athletics.

Higgins said the school board requested all schools keep a chart of any outdoor activities. The chart details what the temperature and heat index conditions are as well as what type of practice it was. The types of practices are based on outdoor safety guidelines developed by school board members.

No practices in Hall County or Gainesville City Schools have been canceled yet due to extreme temperatures.

"The thing about this summer heat is there hasn't been a break in it. It's just the number of days over 90 degrees and the humidity," Bruce Miller said. "But that's Georgia weather."