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Pop Warner team leader shares lightning safety defensive

Parents of the Cape Coral Junior 12 UA team say that lightning was too close to the field during play
Posted at 5:09 AM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 05:10:21-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — One long horn blast is the sound you would typically hear on a football field to stop any outdoor game if lightning is too close, typically 10 miles out.

But some parents who were at the Cape Coral Junior 12 UA football team on Saturday, Aug. 27 say their kids were on the field and still playing when lightning was less than two miles away from the field

They say those warning horn blasts never went off.

MORE | Your Healthy Family explores what to do if caught outside with lightning

Frustrated and scared, parents reached out to us to get to the bottom of what happened and find out if their kids were truly in danger.

Jason Punyahotra, President of Cape Coral Junior Football Association says he remembers the game clearly.

"I was there; it was storming and we saw lightning," Punyahotra said. "I went over to Jerry Craft, he’s the president of the Naples Canes, he pulled up the 'Thor System.' It was active; it was running."

But he said there wasn't an immediate threat to the players.

"The lightning was right around 12 miles away, so it wasn't an active alert," he explained.

The Thor System is what Collier County Schools uses to detect lightning, and Punyahotra says it is in working order.

When I reached out to the school system, they sent this statement:

There have been more than 55 incidents [reported] from that school's system since Saturday. I'm told that the lessee was monitoring the weather the whole time and never felt there was danger. He confirmed that the system was working, but it never went into Red Alert, which is when it would sound the horn.

We reached out to the National Weather Service, which was able to confirm that there were heavy storms in that area that day.

However, they couldn't exactly say how far that lightning was striking during Saturday's game.

The game was played at Golden Gate High School in Naples. Coaches say the same precautions they take on this field are the same for the practice field.

We got to see those protocols in action during our visits to the field.

"Like right now," Punyahotra said, gesturing towards the console, "that yellow light means practice is on hold, stay in your vehicles."

Wednesday's practice was canceled just minutes later. But on Thursday night, players got to get on the field.

"In this instance, we're all clear to get back to practice," Punyahotra said, looking at his phone, where he has an app that shows when lightning strikes and how far.

"So I watch on here; as long as we go 30 minutes without a strike, we can go back on the field." He says he normally gives it an hour.

"I try to hold on as long as I can, but we've had to call practice all this week."

Normally, players are expected to practice 10 hours a week, but Punyahotra said the season has been rather difficult this year with the weather. On this particular week, the teams have only practiced two hours going into this weekend's game.

Punyahotra says his players are more important than practice or a game.

"Some of our games haven't been the best because we haven't had practice, but at the end of the day, it's just a game.

"Their lives are way more important than winning a trophy that I can buy for two dollars," he said.

As for those parents' concerns, Punyahotra says if parents don't feel comfortable with their child playing with storms nearby, despite the system working, they have every right to let the coach know and make the best decision for their child's safety.