Throughout the county, high school football coaches are adjusting their practices because of the heat and drought that have plagued the region this summer.

The conditions have forced coaches to shorten practices, lengthen water breaks and limit contact because the parched ground is so hard. Some coaches have moved their practice areas to other fields that are less ideal but have more grass.

"Our practice fields are dust," Forestville Coach Michael Mayo said. "After just a couple times on it, we're moving from spot to spot. They're pretty dry."

For some, the conditions will have an effect when the season starts next weekend (for most county schools). At Douglass, a lack of field space forces the football team to practice on the Upper Marlboro school's stadium field, making the Eagles one of few teams to practice in their stadium. The stadium is also used as a soccer practice field.

The practice leaves little grass on the team's playing field. And because the closest water outlet is on the school building, Coach Bill Johnson said, the stadium field is rarely watered.

"If you ever get down to Douglass, you'll know we're practicing because you'll see our dust cloud," Johnson said. "There's not a blade of grass by September. For the kids with asthma, it is a problem because they are inhaling dust. It is a little worse this year because of the drought, but by September it ends up this way anyway."

At Eleanor Roosevelt, Coach Rick Houchens traded practice fields with girls soccer coach Diane Casey because the football field is so hard. But the switch makes things difficult for the Raiders because the new field is smaller.

"Our practice field is like a waste-barren land," Houchens said. "It is like playing on a parking lot. Everything now is real brown, but we made the move. Luckily Diane Casey was very cooperative."

At Potomac, Coach Eric Knight said his staff is closely monitoring players to make sure they do not show signs of fatigue from the heat. Knight said his staff makes sure players drink enough water during breaks and between practices. He also is weighing players regularly to make sure they are not losing too much weight.

"If I see a difference of three to five pounds, I tell them to drink a lot of water before they think about" practicing, Knight said. "I tell them right away, 'If you don't feel good, don't take the risk.' It is better to be safe on that side than risk a kid."

Knight is one of several coaches who said they take no chances in the heat. Northwestern was among a handful of schools--DeMatha and Surrattsville were two others--who called for an ambulance on the first day of practice (coaches said none of the calls turned out to be serious).

"We try to make a diagnosis on the spot as to how serious an injury it is," Northwestern Coach Ed Shields said. "We have a lot of coaches with experience who have seen a lot of things. That doesn't mean the diagnosis is like a doctor. Whenever there is any type of doubt, we'll get an ambulance. If there is something that happened that we are not sure of, it is best to have the doctors look at it right away than to go, 'Oh well. We don't know if it is broken so we'll just let it go.' "

Suitland Coach Nick Lynch called for an ambulance about two hours into his first practice because one of his players became dehydrated while stretching between drills.

"You check the kid and try to get him as cool as possible and hydrate him," Lynch said. "I'm not going to take any chances."