Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parent Wants School Gymnasiums Cooler; She's Working to Get Air Conditioning in the County's School Gyms

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parent Wants School Gymnasiums Cooler; She's Working to Get Air Conditioning in the County's School Gyms

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY HURST

Some like it hot, but Mary Mercer doesn't think that's cool in a high school gymnasium.

The mother of teenage athletes and the new Fernandina Beach City Clerk, Mercer knows government and how to get things done.

That's why she's been on a year-long crusade to get middle- and high-school gyms in Nassau County air-conditioned.

No Nassau County schools have air-conditioned gyms, not even the one at the new Yulee High School.

Mercer said that in the seven Northeast Florida counties neighboring Nassau, there are 32 high schools and all the gyms are air-conditioned.

Of 43 middle schools, only four are not air-conditioned.

If Mercer accomplishes her mission, she'd get no guff from students at Hilliard Middle Senior and West Nassau high schools.

Playing volleyball Thursday in Hilliard, players said the gym was cooler than it had been so far this year.

"It's pretty breezy in there tonight," Kinsey VanZant said. "But the JV is playing so there aren't as many people in there."

Kinsey's mother, Tammy VanZant, agreed.

"At the varsity games, there are a lot more people here and the players give off heat, too," Tammy VanZant said. "At the varsity games, everyone's wiping sweat."

Waiting to begin the varsity volleyball game was West Nassau High opponent Kala Crosby, who said she'd love to see the county's high school gyms air-conditioned - particularly those on the westside.

"When we play in Fernandina, it's almost like it's air-conditioned compared to out here," she said. "They've got the sea breeze."

Mercer said the gyms are so stifling, athletes pass out, and parents or grandparents with certain health conditions can't stay and watch a game. Temperatures can exceed 80 degrees.

Recommended temperatures for gyms during athletic events are between 65 and 68 degrees, she said.

"I've seen athletes pass out from heat exhaustion," she said. "One night, when Fernandina Beach High School was playing Raines in girls' basketball, the Raines players were complaining they were losing because they weren't used to playing in the heat. …

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