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When lightning strikes, the Sports Medicine department has their protocol and monitoring system ready. Courtesy: Flickr user Bruce Guenter.

Lightning has made an appearance in each of the past two weeks at Azusa Pacific sporting events. The first appearance at the men’s soccer game against Hope International Monday, Sept. 9 resulted in a 30-minute delay, while the second, at the football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, resulted in a two-hour delay. Even the NFL had an issue with lightning during the season opener in the Mile High City during the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens game on Sept. 6.

When lightning flashes its way into the spotlight, these issues must be readily resolved. Head athletic trainer April Reed and the rest of her team have a plan that has been developed and tweaked over the last seven years.

The lightning protocol developed consisted of a method known as flash-to-bang, where the seconds between the flash and the bang of the lightning is counted and divided by six. The result tells how many miles away the flash is. According to Reed, this system had some rough spots that needed fixing.

“We would get so many flashes and so many bangs, that I couldn’t tell what went to what, and it was getting pretty close, so we got a monitoring system, which is a handheld device that tells [us] how far away the lightning was,” Reed said.

Notifying the players and coaches of the lightning was a problem. Trying to find a way to notify everyone in danger of the nearby lightning all at once, Reed introduced some changes to the monitoring system, including a method of notifying the coaches of each team, campus safety, risk management and intramurals.

“We had to postpone a couple of matches a year ago, and we got a lot of grief from officials and some of the coaching staff [who were] upset that we had to postpone it,” Reed said. “Now that these things are so public with the NFL and all of that happening, it has normalized what we have been doing for quite a while. In a sense, I’m thankful. They’re familiar with it and they understand that it needs to happen.”

The delays have specific time parameters that need to be followed. There is a 30-minute delay that commences directly after a lightning strike. If there is a strike any time during that delay, the 30 minutes start over from the point of the most recent strike.

During lightning delays, soccer games must be over within a three-hour time span. If the game is not decided within those three hours, the game must be either restarted or postponed. Football games do not have a limit to the length of lightning delays.

At Dixie State, the lightning delay lasted for two hours, resulting in the Cougars staying in their locker room for the length of the pause. To prevent any injuries or obstacles with the condition of the players, the sports medicine staff tended to the team while waiting for the officials’ approval to jump back onto the field.

“Our sports medicine staff was keeping everyone hydrated,” Reed said. “We were giving them snacks like bananas and oranges because you have to think about their energy system, too. It’s been so long since their pre-game meal and we just added two hours, so we didn’t want them to be left with no energy for the rest of the game. Coach and I went through letting them rest because if you [repeatedly] warm them up and shut them down, that would be exhausting as well.”

Victor Santa Cruz, head coach of the Cougars’ football team, was satisfied with the result of the delay. He said the sports medicine staff handled the situation with excellence and the team had a blast while passing time.

“April does a great job of being able to keep up with what’s happening with the lightning warning system on her phone, so we kind of knew what would happen,” Santa Cruz said. “We told the team the plan, we had some snacks there for them, one of the guys took over as DJ in the locker and was playing music, and we had a dance contest. Coach Riddle, our wide receivers coach, I think he won it. We had a lot of fun.”

A key piece of a team’s success is the chemistry the players have with one another. The Cougars seem to have this chemistry and enjoy each other’s company, to say the least.

“Our team likes being with each other and that was just more time to be with each other,” Santa Cruz said. “It was evident that coming out of the break, our guys were fired up and excited to play football again, but being with each other, hanging out for a long time, for us, that’s the fun stuff. We enjoy that.”

Whether there will be more lightning strikes in the future remains to be seen. But if there are, Reed and the sports medicine staff pledge to be on top of the situation, keeping the teams updated on the storm and what steps need to be taken.