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Did Southwest High follow GHSA heat guidelines on the day a football player collapsed and died?

13WMAZ obtained records of heat conditions Southwest High documented the day 15-year-old Joshua Ivory collapsed at practice and later died.

MACON, Ga. — The Bibb County School District is still investigating the death of a Southwest High football player who collapsed at practice.

So far, medical examiners have not determined how 15-year-old Joshua Ivory died.

The school district placed head coach Joe Dupree and the team's offensive coordinator on leave, but then brought Dupree back on the job. They won't explain why.

13WMAZ has been reporting on the heat conditions during practice and whether the school followed Georgia High School Association guidelines that day.

According to those guidelines, coaches from all over the state must record conditions at each practice and stop practice if the numbers climb too high.

The key measurement is something called the “Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). It uses heat, humidity, sunlight and other factors to measure the effect of heat stress on the body.

“WBGT tells you how able your body is to cool off,” said Pam Knox, director of the University of Georgia Weather Network. “If you have wind, it helps to blow some of the heat away. That tends to cool you off some more. If the humidity is high, when you sweat, you can't evaporate very quickly.”

So, we filed an open records request asking Bibb County Schools for the readings recorded on the day Ivory collapsed and died. We also asked about heat precautions taken at practice.

The first practice of the season for Southwest High started on Monday, July 26, a hot summer day in Central Georgia. It was also the first day that 15-year-old Joshua Ivory and many other players hit the fields again -- getting ready for the season.

According to records we obtained from the school district, practice began at 4:30 p.m.

At 3 p.m., 90 minutes before practice, head coach Joe Dupree noted the temperature as 95 degrees. Dupree also recorded the WBGT at 77.

GHSA rules say coaches must use caution when that measurement rises over 82.

“When the WBGT gets above 82 that's when we start to implement certain safeguards,” said Bud Cooper, a kinesiology professor at the University of Georgia. 

Cooper advised GHSA on their latest heat policies. Cooper spoke to us generally about GHSA guidelines and WBGT but did not speak on the case involving Southwest High and Ivory.

Under GHSA policies, a WBGT measurement of 77 would be well in the safe range.

At 4:30 p.m., when practice started, Dupree recorded the WBGT at 79.5, and at 6 p.m., 75.1.

Again, those numbers say the practice should have been safe.

But, we showed Southwest High’s measurements of temperature, humidity and other readings from that afternoon to analysts at the National Weather Service in Atlanta and the University of Georgia.

Their estimates of the WBGT are higher than those recorded by Southwest, and they're at the level that would have raised red flags for coaches.

The Weather Service estimates, using the WBGT Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calculator, the range was between 84 and 90, depending on whether players practiced in the shade or direct sun.

Pam Knox, director of the UGA Weather Network, also crunched numbers.

“My calculations turned out to have the Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures for those three times in the mid to upper eighties depending on which of those time you're looking at,” Knox said. “That's definitely higher than what was listed on the sheet.”

So, what explains the difference? Knox says there are several possibilities.

“I don’t know how the numbers on that sheet were calculated. If it was measured. If they had some handheld device. I don't know if he used a table. Or, if he did calculations. I don't know if it was measured on the field or if it was measured somewhere else where it might have been shadier, or windier or something like that. All of those are questions that you'd have to determine,” Knox said.

But, if those calculations from Knox and the National Weather Service are correct, Southwest should have taken precautions.

According to GHSA rules, if the WBGT is between 82 and 87, coaches must increase the number of rest breaks.

If that reading goes past 87, there are more breaks and practice is limited to two hours. At 92, practice must stop.

In our records request, we asked the Bibb County School District if Southwest followed GHSA heat precautions at practice. Their lawyers responded by email, sending us back a link to those guidelines we just explained.

We asked Bibb County Schools how Southwest measured the WBGT at practice. They said they would not release that information, saying it's still under investigation.

Bibb County Schools would not release anymore documents relating to the case, citing the federal law that protects student’s privacy and attorney-client privilege.

To reiterate, investigators have not determined how Ivory died and whether it was heat-related.

They also have not accused Dupree, or anyone connected to the team, of any wrongdoing.


A closer look: Breakdown of heat policy Georgia high school sports teams must follow

'An overall good kid': Southwest High coach remembers football player who died after practice

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