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Should kids be allowed to play outdoor sports during a storm?

7:12 PM, Oct 8, 2012   |    comments
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Fort Myers, Florida -- After the death of an 11-year-old football player who was struck by lightning on the field, many people have expressed their sadness, and also, their concerns about safety in sports.

"DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS PLAY OUTSIDE, OR ANY SPORTS WITH A STORM APPROACHING," one Facebook post read.

Many athletic directors, principals, and league leaders in Tampa Bay say they already constantly monitor weather conditions before and during practices and games, but the death of Jesse Watlington, a student at Southwest Florida Christian Academy, has opened their eyes even more.

"Go back 25 years, we had a kid get killed during a football practice," says Don Bridges, Athletics Director for Polk County Schools. "So it's very important to us."

That's why every school in the county has at least two lightning detectors. When lightning gets anywhere close, they'll clear the field until 30 minutes have passed with no strikes.

The Florida High School Athletic Association follows that same 30-minute rule, and says if there's a storm within the area of a game, the policy is for officials to call the schools' principals, who would make the decision of whether to delay or call off a game.  

"It's not a guessing game. It looks clear? There's no clouds, so let's go back out? Well, that's when you have lightning with clear skies," says Bridges.

Hillsborough County Schools also use lightning detectors. On Monday, Steinbrenner High School was making up a game against Gaither High School that was originally scheduled for Friday. Between what lightning meters and radar showed officials that night, they decided to postpone the game shortly after it started.

Among extracurricular leagues, the rules differ, but not by much. The Tampa Bay Youth Football League also uses lightning meters, and will typically delay a game or practice by 20 to 30 minutes once lightning is seen in the area. Meanwhile, John Grant, a local Baseball Tournament Director for the United States Specialty Sports Association, says umpires on the field decide whether weather should impact a game.

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