Idaho High School Athletes Practice Despite Bad Air

Aug 14, 2012

In the past week air quality in the Treasure Valley has been in the orange category several times. That means the air can cause health problems for sensitive groups. Health officials caution people to avoid strenuous outdoor activities during orange alerts, but the area’s high school sports teams are practicing as usual.

Janel Kozlowski’s son is a freshman at Meridian’s Rocky Mountain High School. He’s on the football team and goes to two practices a day. Kozlowski says he’s having trouble breathing.

“He can’t stop coughing, he doesn’t go a whole minute without coughing. And I know it’s from the air outside. He’s in the house right now just trying to put steam in his lungs so he can go to practice from 1:00 to 3:00 again.” She explains, "he’s over the sink with a towel over his head just breathing in steam.”

Kozlowski wants the school to move practice inside.

Mike Farris, Meridian’s activities director says very few schools have modified practices because of the bad air. Meridian doesn’t have a policy on how to respond to air quality alerts. Farris says several times a day he gets updates from the Department of Environmental Quality and consults with coaches and the district’s nursing director. So far he has left things up to each school’s discretion.

“I’m very confident in the staffs at the schools," he says. "That they’re following our direction and making sure they’re doing what they need to to keep the kids safe.”

The Idaho High School Activities Association has one thing to say in its rule book about air quality. If it’s compromised, students should be monitored closely.

Janel Kozlowski says if her son’s breathing gets worse she’ll keep him home. But if team members miss one practice they can’t play in the first game and her son has been dreaming about playing high school football for years.

"How do you tell a 14 year old boy that he has to miss practice and not play in the first game?" she asks?  "But, you know, they may not have a team if they’re breathing this in. They could get some really sick kids.”

The Boise School District does have an air quality policy. It says if the air quality index goes into the red all outdoor activities must move inside. Sunday was the only red day so far, so Boise’s high school athletes also continue to work out, outdoors.