26 Football Fatality Cases of America 2011
Football Repeats Heat-Illness Disaster of Decade Before
About 20 Player Deaths Will Qualify as Game-Related
Death Statistics Appear Sound Despite Faulty Studies
By Matt Chaney
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Ten years ago last summer, in 2001, five American football players died within 12 scorching days of July and August, including Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer and Rashidi Wheeler, defensive back at Northwestern University.
Football officials vowed the calamity would never reoccur, swearing they finally recognized heat illness and its influence on further deadly conditions. They said an “awareness” sweeping football aimed to eliminate heatstroke, which was wholly preventable by expert consensus longstanding.
The promise was broken in subsequent years, naturally, like every alleged safety reform of incorrigible football, as heatstroke and related conditions continued to plague players.
But that forsaken pledge reflected eerily on football in 2011, with an 11-day stretch of extreme heat and outcomes for unfortunate players, their families, schools and communities.
From July 22 through Aug. 2, at least five prep football players mortally collapsed amid the game’s stubborn push through record heat in the country. A middle-aged football coach also died, of a heart ailment, after withering at a morning practice in Texas with temperature nearing 100 degrees.
The deadly 2011 timespan marked a dark anniversary for brutal football—while accentuating perpetual folly over health risks—occurring almost precisely 10 years after the heat slaughter of July-August 2001.
All told for football in the United States during 2011, dozens of people died in or around the sport, as usual for a given year, with about 20 player fatalities that are provably game-related, including 4 apparent collision deaths, likewise typical of recent decades.
This blog post is the first comprehensive collection of reported deaths surrounding American football in 2011, presenting 26 select cases from fatalities located through my Boolean searches of Google information banks.
The case narratives below contain available information, distilled primarily from news reports, on the deaths of 23 American football players, 1 coach, 1 referee and 1 cheerleader in 2011. None qualifies as medical study and each case requires expert follow-up for verification as game-related or not.
Beyond this list there are more reports of fatalities occurring close to football last year, such as 2 players in offseason training who died of cardiac problems while playing pickup basketball; 3 players dead of painkiller overdosing; player suicides that invited question of brain trauma’s involvement; and additional cases of coaches who died on the job.
But football fatalities merely introduce the large, costly scope of catastrophic or severe casualties every year in religious blood sport of the culture.
This weekend I will post an unprecedented number of casualty reports on American football in a given year, on ChaneysBlog.com: 220 annotated cases for 2011 culled from hundreds of game emergencies publicized in Google.
My pending report will contain fatalities but spotlight the survivors of football terrors, nearly 200 individuals who suffered severe injury or condition.
My categories of survivor conditions include brain bleeding (23 cases located of 2011), spinal paralysis (minimally 6 cases), vertebral fracture (about 60 cases), cardiac arrest, heatstroke, non-cerebral blood clots, organ rupture or damage (51 cases), “compartment syndrome” with amputation, facial fractures, peripheral nerve paralysis and staph infection of spinal column.
About 110 of the survivor cases—severe injuries of brain, skull, spinal cord, vertebral column and heart—are candidates for designation as catastrophic in the pending report for 2011 by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, University of North Carolina, which has yet to address its serious errors in data collecting and recording of the past.
The UNC researchers, led by Frederick Mueller, a PhD in education, and Dr. Robert Cantu, the Boston-based sport neurosurgeon, face major revision of faulty data for 2010 and 2009, their football underreporting documented by my Google retrievals of cases they missed, doubling to tripling numbers they’ve published.
For more information, see ChaneysBlog posts since October on catastrophic injury in American football during 2011, featuring scores of survivor cases and analysis of reporting limitations.
Mueller and Cantu have declined my interview requests and my offers to forward them more than 100 total survivor leads missed for their catastrophic-injury reports of 2010 and 2009.
The Mueller-Cantu reports are accepted at face value and repeated as authoritative epidemiology on American football, for decades running, by parties such as medical journals and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least the Mueller-Cantu fatality numbers appear fairly sound for two primary reasons regarding news media, their primary source of case leads:
News media learn of and report the vast majority of deaths in America, primarily through public records and human sources such as police.
And football death has been a news priority since American mass media exploded as the Golden Press, print news, the daily papers and periodic magazines following the Civil War.
Today, electronic search has increased prospects for gathering football deaths reported in news media, likely helping strengthen research on deaths in vast American football, although cases are still missed for studies.
Mueller and Cantu, for example, omitted at least 2 football fatalities from their 2010 report, cases that I nevertheless located in Google: a youth player killed in Pennsylvania by football collision and a college player in Minnesota, dead of a brain aneurysm suffered during winter conditioning.
My 26 select cases of football fatalities in 2011 follow here.
Some will not qualify as football-related under Mueller-Cantu definitions and classification, either for medically verifiable fact or because no linking evidence exists.
Online Reports of Deaths Surrounding American Football, 2011
Cases require medical follow-up for affirmation as football-related
By Matt Chaney, email@example.com
April 27: Marcellis Williamson, 23, a former college defensive lineman preparing for pro football, suffered fatal pulmonary thrombosis, a blood clot in lung. Williamson died while training as hopeful for the upcoming NFL draft and as CFL teams scheduled tryouts for the 6-1, 327-pound prospect. Williamson had excelled at nose tackle for Ohio University, where he graduated in recreation management and former football teammates remembered his commitment and personality. “Everything he did, he tried to be the best,” said linebacker Noah Keller. Cornerback Julian Posey was crestfallen during video comments but took solace in recalling his close friend Williamson, including for dance moves: “Watching Marcellis dance… (wasn’t) a rare occasion ’cause he loved to dance, but it was something special ’cause he could move just like any small person would,” Posey said. Williamson’s older brother Denayne Dixon, a linebacker in the Arena Football League, said he was coping with the tragedy. “It’s tough,” Dixon said. “We were real close… I’m not the same. I feel like a part of me went with him. I’m just trying to get through it. I’ll never get over it, it’s always going to hurt, but I’m just trying to do my best. … (Marcellis) was a big guy and that could be a little intimidating at first, but once he opened his mouth, you knew he was a real good guy. He never threw his weight around.” Sources: OhioBobcats.com, Rivals.Yahoo.com, Des Moines Register, AthensMidDay.com and Ohio University Post.
May 12: Luke Killian, age 16, North Carolina, lineman for the Morganton Mountaineers, collapsed during warm-up for a conditioning session with teammates at a city park. Killian, an overweight youth, was pronounced dead at a local hospital, possibly of heat exhaustion, according to reports. Team coach and organizer Doug Deitz had not attended the unofficial workout, which he said was staged by the players. No athletic trainer was present. The Morganton Mountaineers compete in the non-profit Pioneer Football League, which is “founded on Christian principles with an emphasis on helping young men and women develop biblical character traits,” the team website states. “The league provides an opportunity for home-school and private-schooled students ages 12-18 to play regulation football or participate in cheerleading. These student-athletes would normally not have the opportunity to play football through the public school system or if their private school does not offer football as a choice of athletics.” Sources: Morganton News Herald, Athletic Business magazine, WSOC-TV and MorgantonMountaineers.teampages.com.
July 22: Samuel Gitt, 17, Pennsylvania, lineman for Boiling Springs High School, collapsed in a dormitory at Albright College, where his team was attending a football camp, and later died at a hospital. Gitt, listed at 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds on a team roster, was stricken following an evening football practice in extreme heat. Gitt was housed in a dormitory with window units for air-conditioning and some were not operated properly, said Albright spokeswoman Barbara Marshall. Coroner Charles Sweitzer determined Gitt died of an enlarged heart, or “natural causes,” and heat may have contributed. Sources: Carlisle Sentinel and Reading Eagle.
July 27: Isaiah Laurencin, 17, Florida, offensive guard for Miramar High School, collapsed and fell comatose during team conditioning drills on the evening of July 26. Laurencin, listed at 6-3 and 286 pounds, died the next morning at a local hospital. The autopsy report stated Laurencin died “of cardiac arrest during physical exertion due to multiple factors superimposed upon sickle cell trait and alpha thalassemia (a genetic blood disorder).” No single cause was cited, with “co-morbid natural factors” also including hypertension, bronchitis, obesity and temperature of 92 degrees when Laurencin was stricken about 5 p.m. Matt Eagan, sports columnist for Mansfield.Patch.com, took exception with the football deaths of Laurencin and Samuel Gitt in the South, within a summer week, for a post titled “Don’t Try to Beat the Heat”: “There is absolutely no way two-a-day conditioning practices for a high school sport should be sanctioned in July, especially when the heat index rises over 90,” Eagan commented. “Student-athletes, perhaps more so than other students, are raised to trust the adults in authority. … (We) need adults to behave like adults and stop sending our kids out to get in shape when it’s 95 degrees. So many things in life are out of our control. This is one that isn’t.” Other sources: South Florida Sun Sentinel, WSVN-TV and Miami Herald.
July 30: Tyquan Brantley, 14, South Carolina, linebacker for Lamar High School, collapsed after a morning practice session in 100-degree. Brantley, somewhat overweight, died in a local hospital. The Darlington County Coroner’s Office concluded death occurred for complications of sickle cell trait, with various factors possible and exact cause unknown. In months following the tragedy, family and friends regularly visited a Facebook page dedicated to Brantley, a popular and beloved teen who had looked forward to high school. A young relative named Commiesha posted faithfully on Tyquan’s page, especially as the holidays approached and passed. A college student, Commiesha identified herself in tribute to Tyquan as “Your Big First Cousin.” The morning of Oct. 25, she wrote: “I was thinking about you. Just sitting here doing my work in my dorm then I look to my left (And there was your picture). All I could do is smile and think about the times we all had together. We miss and love you. Mesha.” She wrote on Dec. 23: “Words can’t explain how much you’re missed… Even though we all know you are in a better place, there are just some things that we cannot replace. Love and miss you Ty. -Your cousin Commiesha.” And in January 2012, having returned to college, Commiesha posted for Tyquan: “Just stopped by your page because you have been on my mind lately (A lot). We love you and miss you.” Sources: Florence Morning News, The Associated Press, www.facebook.com, Rivals.Yahoo.com and Legacy.com.
Aug. 1: Andy Collins, 27, Florida, pro quarterback and linebacker, collapsed while running on a hotel treadmill and later died at a hospital. Preliminary autopsy determined heart attack to be the cause and arterial malformation might have contributed. Collins had played in the Arena Football League and the Indoor Football League but was a free agent at his death. Robust and handsome, Collins appeared in television commercials, and his wife, CBS Sports reporter Brooke Collins, said her husband was “the healthiest person I knew.” Andy Collins reportedly considered the Catholic priesthood before meeting the former Brooke Olzendam in California; both were natives of Washington, where he played IFL football for the Tri-Cities Fever in 2010. “This is tragic,” said Teri Carr, Fever co-owner. “You think about these young men and they could be your kids.” Kevin Anderson, athletic trainer, said, “It’s kind of cliché when something like this happens to say he was a great guy. Andy was actually one of the great guys you could know.” Collins was “an incredible human being,” friend Josh Wallwork posted online. “It’s crazy how you see bad things happen to good people.” Sources: Tri-City Herald, Stockton Record, Yakima Herald Republic and Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Aug. 1: Wade McLain, 55, Texas, assistant football coach for Prestonwood Christian Academy, was stricken at a morning practice session in extreme heat, as temperatures would climb to 107 degrees that afternoon. McLain died at a local hospital, and a witness to the incident, Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, recalled in a prepared statement that the team “had been stopping regularly for water and air-conditioning breaks, and during one break (McLain) became ill and collapsed.” The Collin County medical examiner ruled McLain died of heart problems “associated with heat exposure,” according to KDAF-TV.
Aug. 2: Don’terio J. “D.J.” Searcy, 16, Georgia, defensive lineman for Fitzgerald High School, was found unresponsive in a cabin at team football camp in rural northern Florida, about 90 minutes after a morning practice in extreme heat gripping the Southeast. Searcy, 6-1 and 330 pounds, was pronounced dead at a hospital distant from his Georgia home. The player’s parents and WTEV reporter Ashley Coleman investigated, hearing from Searcy’s teammates that he collapsed twice at Florida Bible Camp, located 135 miles from Fitzgerald and site of four days of summer drills for the public school team. Players said Don’terio was initially found unconscious in a bathroom the night before his death, a Monday, by two assistant coaches following a team “devotional,” but no emergency call was made. The parents, Carlton and Michelle Searcy, weren’t notified of such an incident: “My question to the coaches is why didn’t you call 911 on (that) night and notify me when (Don’terio) first went down unconscious and unresponsive,” Michelle said. Fitzgerald High football coaches referred questions to district superintendent Nancy Whidden, who said coaches whom she queried were unaware of a bathroom collapse. Players also said that Don’terio had struggled in the heat for the camp practices in full pads, including suffering vomiting and headaches and lying down, but coaches did not sideline him. “It was intense,” said player Deion Bivens. “It was real hot and we were running and they were just pushing us real hard.” The Searcy family requested an investigation by Georgia school officials, but nothing had transpired by November, when a coroner’s report in Florida stated Don’terio died of a heart condition exacerbated by hypertension. Heat was not cited as factor. Whidden, the superintendent, issued a statement after the autopsy: “(A)ll indications were that D.J. was physically able to participate in football,” Whidden wrote. “Unfortunately, this long-standing heart condition caused his death. According to the information we have received, there was nothing our coaches or other staff members did or did not do that in any way contributed to this tragedy.” However, U.S. Army Capt. Carlton Searcy was not satisfied, and he contacted the medical examiner in Jacksonville regarding his son’s death; according to Capt. Searcy, the coroner said he was not fully apprised of circumstances like the teen’s alleged first collapse and the team’s practice conditions in oppressive heat. The parents then consulted an unidentified Army medical expert, according to a statement released by their attorney that stated: “After reviewing D.J.’s medical records, autopsy report, and considering the circumstances surrounding D.J.’s death, the medical expert formed the initial opinion that D.J. died from a heat-related event and that his tragic death was preventable.” Inquiries continued. Sources: WTEV-TV, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WJXT-TV.
Aug. 2: Forest Jones, 16, Georgia, offensive center for Locust Grove High School, collapsed, comatose, as a voluntary conditioning session concluded at the school on July 25. “After practice, he got a drink of water and dumped it over his head and started walking up a grassy hill, and when he did he fell backwards and hit his head. Then he stood back up for a second and passed back out,” said Glenn Jones, the player’s father. Doctors said heat may have contributed, and Jones never regained consciousness, succumbing on his eighth day hospitalized, brain-dead with complete organ failure. Family members said Jones, at 5-8, 240 pounds, had driven himself too hard in the heat, and his death occurred only a few hours after that of another Georgia prep player, Don’terio Searcy. The same-day tragedies in Georgia were America football’s 5th and 6th field fatalities within 11 days of withering heat—repeating closely the sport’s calamitous 8-day stretch of 10 years before, July-August 2001, when 5 players died such as Korey Stringer, mammoth tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. Now public discussion reignited nationally, and at Locust Grove, Georgia, one of the 2011 death locales, Gina Hughes was among citizens groping for answers. The deceased Forest Jones had been a teammate of her son, and Hughes noted the players drilled outside on hotter days locally than July 25, when Jones collapsed. “I’m a football mom, I believe in those boys getting out there and working their butts off,” Hughes said, “but everyone has to stop and think.” News writer Paul Newberry lambasted football for outside activities in summer and called for delaying the sport’s start on the calendar to offset heat stress on players, coaches and others. “Enough’s enough,” Newberry declared. “There’s just no need to be practicing football in 100-degree temperatures.” Meanwhile, the Jones family did not carry medical coverage or life insurance for Forest, nor had money for a funeral; local fundraising efforts helped defray mounting expenses. Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB-TV and WXIA-TV.
Aug. 9: Montel Williams, 15, Arkansas, defensive end for Gurdon High School, collapsed while running sprints about 8:30 at night practice, as local temperature registered about 90 degrees. Williams, conscious when he went down, was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Findings of a state preliminary autopsy “indicated” a pre-existing heart condition was involved, not the excessive heat, but Williams’ parents were skeptical. “I still think they were practicing too hard,” said Sandra Walker, the boy’s mother. Walker said she was not aware of pre-existing health conditions for Montel, an honors student who was solidly built and athletic, and she regretted having allowed him to play football. Montel’s father, Charles Williams, questioned the autopsy report but said: “I have no medical experience, so I don’t know.” Sources: KLRT-TV, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Associated Press.
Aug. 28: Derek Sheely, 22, Maryland, fullback for Frostburg State University, suffered brain trauma on Aug. 22, apparently amid collisions at a practice session. “They were preparing for the next round of drills, and it was then that Derek started to mention to the coaches that he wasn’t feeling well,” said Kenneth Sheely, the player’s father. Derek collapsed as athletic trainers escorted him from the field. The comatose athlete was air-lifted to a regional hospital then a Baltimore trauma center by Maryland State Police, for immediate surgery. Sheely died on his sixth day hospitalized, and his father said pathology results revealed the cause as severe brain injury resulting of head impact. Sheely was apparently the year’s first publicized collision death in football, and his father hoped the American institution took heed—the sport itself and advocates, not merely the Frostburg University community. “I’m not a medical expert. I’m not a football expert.” Kenneth Sheely said hours after his son’s death. “But I would hope that any time, in any sport, whether it be during a game or during practice, that if an athlete passes away from something that wasn’t of natural causes, that was clearly seemed to be induced by the activity, that the NCAA or somebody should try and look into that and see what lessons could be learned. I don’t know if it’s education, equipment, training, a combination of everything—but it seems like there has to be some subtle thing that could be learned that might help protect somebody else.” On the Frostburg campus, student videographer Madison Martin reported Sheely was “known for his determined demeanor and coy sense of humor.” Several teachers remembered him as a top student majoring in history and political science. A visibly subdued Tim Magrath, professor of political science, said of Sheely: “It’s hard for us to understand someone so strong and so capable is gone. He seemed such an unstoppable force. He’s someone I thought would never slow down.” Football quarterback Josh Volpe remembered Sheely, a good friend, as “always in pursuit of excellence,” never missing a practice, workout nor class assignment. Volpe recalled on camera that his first touchdown pass in college, in his first game, went to Sheely on a route out of the backfield. Excited for both of them, Sheely celebrated: “He scored the touchdown then he spiked (the ball) and he got a flag, got kicked out of the game,” Volpe said, smiling. Martin reported that Sheely was scheduled to graduate with honors in May 2012. “Sheely had intentions of serving our country after graduation,” she said. Sources: Prince George Gazette, WTTG-TV, New York Times, Madison Martin on Vimeo.com, and Cumberland Times-News.
Sept. 1: Al Smith Jr., 15, Texas, lineman for Eisenhower High School, became ill then fainted during a practice session on Aug. 30. Smith regained consciousness briefly, but his condition worsened: “(Doctors) were saying his system was shutting down a lot,” Al Smith Sr. later recounted. The teen died after two days hospitalized, and no cause was known immediately. “He was just a good kid, that’s all I can say. A good kid. Whatever happened, I’m lost for words,” said his father. “He wanted to play professional ball, and he always wanted to be a real estate broker.” At Eisenhower High, schoolmates remembered Al Smith Jr. as a kid in good physical condition. “He was real healthy,” said sophomore classmate Tralynn Robinson. “This don’t make no sense,” said sophomore Antanisha Richardson. “I don’t know. It’s sad.” National discussion continued over football fatalities occurring from July until autumn. “For the sixth time this summer, a high school football player has collapsed and died after practicing in scorching heat,” Joel Siegel reported, also noting the death of coach Wade McLain. “The dangers of student-athletes training in extreme heat creates tragedies every year.” A Dallas newspaper’s inquiry into prep football’s practice procedures in summer drew a response from Texas school athletics officials, of the University Interscholastic League. A UIL medical panel wanted changes on time and frequency for “two-a-day” practices, and it recommended an extra hour of recovery between same-day sessions. However, no doctor mentioned revising start date for preseason drills. Meanwhile, final autopsy results were not publicized in Google news banks by year’s end. Sources: KRIV-TV, ABC News, Dallas Morning News.
Sept. 5: Kishon Cooper, 8, Florida, a youth-league wide receiver and defensive back, collapsed outside his home during activity with his father on Labor Day, as they ran and tossed a football. Cooper was later pronounced dead at a hospital. His father, Kerash Cooper, recalled the incident for blogger Eric Ikpe: “I had water in one hand with Kool-Aid in my other hand, and (Kishon) had one more lap to go, and he said, ‘I don’t feel good.’ ” Ikpe reported that heat complications caused the death. Kishon apparently took up football largely with peers, as a strong, athletic youth player for the Washington Park Buccaneers program in Hollywood, Fla. “His desire for the game was so strong that he would come home and run drills around the house,” Ikpe reported. Kerash, a musician, would be drawn outside, leaving the home studio to indulge football with his son. “It got to the point where I would start watching football just because of Kishon,” the father said. “I was proud of him, and what he was doing on the field.” Two days before he died, Kishon scored a touchdown for Washington Park. “It was a good touchdown. It was a good game,” said Matayo Gray, a 13-year-old cousin. Sources: GenNexxt.WordPress.com, Miami Herald and South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Sept. 9: Frederick Latrell Dunbar Jr., 16, Mississippi, fullback for D’Iberville High School, collapsed while blocking on a play during a game, suffering cardiac arrest. The incident occurred about 9 p.m., and trainers and medics attended to Dunbar for 15 minutes, employing an automated external defibrillator, or AED. An ambulance transported the teen to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. “Everything was done on the field to (try saving) him,” said Arlton Hudson, coach of Gautier High School, which hosted the game. “The trainers worked on him when they realized he was not breathing. CPR was administered to him. I know they ‘defibbed’ him three or four times. They did everything they could do… and it just didn’t work.” A coroner was unsure what triggered the cardiac arrest while finding that heart abnormalities may have contributed. Dunbar was solidly built at 5-7, 185 pounds, and video of his last football play did not confirm whether an impact caused his heart to stop beating. D’Iberville coach Buddy Singleton said Dunbar was struck near a shoulder, from the side. “You could see him kind of stumble and he fell. I don’t think he ever regained consciousness after that,” Singleton said. Meanwhile, friends and family remembered Dunbar, who had gone by his middle name, for fine qualities founded in his unwavering positive attitude. “He was such a good dude, such a happy dude,” said Orin Cole, friend and teammate. “Cherish everything you have, because you never know when you are going to lose it.” Singleton, with more than 30 years coaching experience, said: “He was a great kid, real clean-cut, a good student. He was one of those guys you love to have on the team. … It was real tough (at the tragic game). I’ve been in this business a long time, and you don’t get prepared for something like this. I’d never lost a player like this, and I just thanked the Lord it hadn’t happened before now.” Sources: MSGulf.com, Mississippi Press, WLOX-TV and Biloxi Sun Herald.
Sept. 10: Brian Rushing, 17, Virginia, defensive tackle for Southhampton High School, died in his sleep during the overnight following a football game. A preliminary autopsy found Rushing died of stress linked to an undiagnosed heart condition and football collision was not a factor, according to Rev. Charles Worth, spokesman for the Rushing family. The player, somewhat overweight, “suffered no life-threatening injuries from football,” Worth said. “Any exertion would have brought on this condition.” Worth, pastor of the True Word Christian Church that Rushing attended, remembered the young man as upbeat and humorous: “He was a good kid. I can’t say enough platitudes about him.” Former schoolmates posted tributes online. “You will be missed Brian,” wrote Harvey Holt. “You could never be forgotten,” Amber Jefferson wrote, adding, “I shed one last tear for you as I read through that beautiful but goofy poem you wrote me. I miss you. And you will always be in my heart.” Sources: Franklin Tidewater News, Recruit757.com and www.facebook.com.
Sept. 16: Jerry Green, 66, Tennessee, referee of football and basketball, complained about feeling sick during halftime of a football game he was officiating at Signal Mountain High School. Green went to a bathroom where he was discovered later, collapsed of a brain aneurysm, and he died that night at a hospital. Green, a realty specialist who was diabetic and overweight, had officiated school sports for 35 years in western Tennessee. He was known as a rules stickler who insisted players were fully padded, including hip and butt pads, David Whitley reported. “He was known to be very stern on the field,” said Billy Fairbanks, officiating crewmate and friend of Green. “That’s just how he was.” Sources: WRCB-TV, AOL.SporttingNews.com and Chattanoogan.com.
Sept. 18: Kainen Boring, 17, Tennessee, kicker/linebacker for Bledsoe County High School, suffered head trauma of a helmet-to-helmet collision during a practice session, while making a “perfect form tackle,” said a friend. Boring rose to his feet, walked to a huddle and said, “Something ain’t right.” The 6-foot, 195-pound teen collapsed, remaining conscious long enough to speak with a coach, then fell into seizure. Boring was airlifted to a hospital for emergency brain surgery. His mother, Paula Boring, later said a constricted-arteries tangle found at base of Kainen’s skull apparently contributed to the injury—“venous malformation” or AVM—which she described as “like a birthmark, a cluster of blood vessels that ruptured… during practice.” In hospital Kainen would not regain consciousness, sustained on ventilator with nary vital signs until the removal of life support, and his organs were donated to transplant patients. Weeks afterward, his father discussed the tragedy with news reporter Stephen Hargis: “The first thing I want to make clear is that football didn’t kill Kainen,” said Robby Boring. “We never knew he had AVM until after his accident, but it could have happened by him doing just about anything. Kainen loved football. He loved being part of that team, and this wasn’t anybody’s fault. We don’t even question God as to why this happened. It’s not for us to understand right now.” Nevertheless, the death qualified as the year’s second known collision fatality in American football, according to definition of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (NCCSIR), University of North Carolina. Kainen Boring was a dedicated athlete, faithfully attending football practice and other workouts; the day he was injured, Kainen rose early before school, leaving home at dawn to lift weights with an uncle. “That was the last time we spoke to each other, and I wish now I had held onto him longer,” Paula Boring said. The mother told Hargis she took comfort knowing Kainen’s organs lived on through transplants, like for the young woman in Georgia who received his heart. “I want to meet her so badly,” Paula said. “I want to put my hand on her chest and feel Kainen’s heart beat one more time.” Sources: Chattanooga Times Free Press, WRCB-TV, WTVC-TV, Chattanoogan.com and New York Times.
Sept. 22: Jurelle Davis, 15, California, defensive back for Cosumnes Oaks High School, suffered a severe asthma attack followed by cardiac arrest at his home on Monday, Sept. 19, according to school officials. Davis died that Thursday in a hospital, and football activity was not reported to have contributed. His football coaches said Davis had chronic health conditions, including Crohn’s disease, but the teen was determined to participate and received medical clearance. Davis carried an inhaler everywhere and was remembered as quiet, respectful and intelligent. “He was an undersized guy who had health issues his whole life,” said coach Ryan Gomes. “But he loved the game so much, he never wanted to give it up. I talked to his mom and dad, and they said the one thing he absolutely loved was being out on the football field with his brothers and teammates. He was absolutely aggressive on the field. He played hard and let it all out on the field.” Davis was “one of the hardest hitters we had,” said Vinny Herrera, friend and teammate, “and he pushed himself harder than anyone else. He’s an inspiration to me. … He was a quiet person but funny.” Sources: ElkGrove.Patch.com, Elk Grove Citizen, KOVR-TV and KXTV-TV.
Sept. 30: Angela Gettis, 16, California, cheerleader for George Washington Preparatory High School, collapsed amidst a leg-kick routine during a school football game, suffering cardiac arrest. The incident occurred about 9 p.m., as Washington High tied the game score on a touchdown, and bystanders performed CPR on Gettis until emergency personnel arrived, reviving her only briefly. Gettis was pronounced dead around midnight at a hospital, and family members said she formerly had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart, which may have contributed. “It is a catastrophic loss for the school and community,” said John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Todd Ullah, principal at Gettis’ school, said: “Washington High, like every other high school, has its share of unfortunate incidents regarding youth… but you can never really prepare. It’s devastating, it’s tragic.” Friends described Gettis as popular, cheerful and studious, aspiring to major in forensic science at college. “We thought she’d do something special,” said friend Chizo Iberosi. Sources: The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, KABC-TV and NBCLosAngeles.com.
Oct. 1: Nicholas Gulow, 15, Georgia, center for Rome High School, was stricken at home then pronounced dead at a local hospital. Coroner Ernie Studard said he believed Gulow died of natural causes. Gulow, an overweight youth, apparently played a junior-varsity football game on Sept. 29, but the sport was not reported to have contributed to his death. “He was a respectful kid and he loved Rome High football,” said coach Franco Perkins. Gulow was a “humble and spirited” player, wrote student reporter Chelsea Crumley, and senior football player Cameron Richardson referred to him as “my brother.” The team dedicated a victory to Gulow. “I played my hardest just for him,” Richardson said. Senior player Joe Claytor said, “The whole team was not thinking about losing or winning, but rather to play every play like Gulow would have, 110 percent.” Besides football and track at school, Gulow participated in Junior ROTC, FCA and yearbook. Sources: Rome News-Tribune, Rome High Harbinger and Talley’s Parkview Chapel Funeral Home.
Oct. 12: Ryan Smith, 16, Oklahoma, defensive lineman for Edmond North High School, suffered bone fractures in his right leg, of the tibia and fibula, when struck from behind during a practice session on Oct. 11. Smith, 6-3, 220 pounds, was treated at a hospital and released, with upcoming surgery scheduled for the leg injuries, but at home in the overnight his condition deteriorated. Lethargic, unable to rise from bed the next morning, Smith was taken to a different hospital and admitted to critical care; he died that night and blood clots possibly contributed, resulting from the leg fractures, said one expert. In January 2012, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma medical examiner’s official said Smith died of an abnormal condition or “sequela” originating of the leg injuries, pending a final autopsy report. “Unbelievable,” said Michael Lively, the teen’s uncle. “It’s hard to believe something like that would happen. … It’s just something you can’t understand.” Smith had attended two high schools in the Edmond area, and students at each remembered him as fun and engaging, a teen enjoying football and wrestling, and dreaming of playing in the NFL. Taevyon Warren was a sophomore classmate and teammate of Smith; each had transferred to Edmond North High for the fall, and they met in summer football practice. “With both of us being new, we just bonded,” Warren said. “Just his presence, just him being around, would make your day.” Warren and friends produced a rap rhyme in Smith’s honor. “We did a remix of a song, talking about how life is short and how you never expect to end. We just talked about Ryan and how good a person he was.” Sources: Oklahoma City Oklahoman, Edmond Sun, KFOR-TV, KWTV-TV, ABC News and MaxPreps.com.
Oct. 14: Ridge Barden, 16, New York, defensive tackle for Phoenix High School, suffered brain trauma of contact during a game; he lay on his belly momentarily after a play, until coaches and trainers arrived at his side. Barden rolled over of his power and sat up, complaining of headache. “Coach, I think I got hit head-to-head,” he told head coach Jeff Charles. Then Barden tried to stand and collapsed, comatose; he died later at a hospital of a brain bleed resulting from impact to the head, according to police. A school athletics official in New York, John Rathbun, said: “I don’t think anyone could have ever, ever, ever seen this coming. Accidents do happen.” Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, an authority on sport-related head trauma, said of Barden’s case: “Those kind of injuries are very rare, they’re catastrophic, they will happen and there’s no real way of preventing them through equipment. That’s going to happen any time there are impacts to the head of significant force.” The coaches reviewed game video of Barden but could not determine a causal instance between two possible collisions that were routine for football, Jorge Castillo reported. Charles told journalist Castillo he was so shaken by the tragedy with Barden that he considered leaving coaching. “I will never bad-mouth the sport of football,” Charles said. “I played it and I loved it and I’ve coached for years, but it does make me take a second look at it.” Jody Barden, father of the deceased athlete, said he blamed no one and did not want “negative spin” on football. “I don’t want to scare kids from playing the game,” the parent said. “Ridge loved playing the game, and I know he wouldn’t want it to get a bad name.” The death of Ridge Barden qualified as the third known collision fatality in American football of 2011, per criteria of the NCCSIR at UNC. “It’s still shocking,” said his mother, Jacqueline Barden. “He was with us and now he’s gone.” She did not want other players to feel guilty, and she said neither would her son. “He just would not want those people to think that it was their fault,” Jacqueline said. “Everything that Ridge did, he did with full gust. I’d say just take that attitude with you.” Sources: New York Times, Syracuse Post-Standard, WSYR-TV and ABC World News.
Oct. 27: Alec Mounkes, 13, Kansas, offensive lineman/linebacker for Lyndon Middle School, sustained an ankle injury during a game on Oct. 6, initially diagnosed by doctors as a mere sprain. Mounkes, in good physical shape, was prescribed rest, to stay off the injured ankle, but his condition grew catastrophic with development of blood clots in the legs; he twice suffered cardiac arrest, said a school official. The boy was hospitalized for weeks, kept alive on a heart-and-lung machine and undergoing amputations on both legs. Mounkes died following lung surgery as a “great kid from a great family,” said Brian Spencer, superintendent of Lyndon Unified School District. “We are sorry for your loss,” stated an online post to the Mounkes family, from friends in their community, the Scott Jordan family, who added. “Alec was so special and loving like his family.” Sources: Topeka Capital-Journal, KansasFirstNews.com and Legacy.com.
Nov. 1: Aaron “Tootie” Harris, 18, Alabama, a large offensive tackle for Walter Wellborn High School, died of reported kidney failure in a hospital. An overweight young man, Harris first had kidney problems at 4 years old, his mother said, and he was ill the week he played a football game on Thursday night then missed school the following day, experiencing headaches, back pain and lethargy. The family thought Aaron was negotiating usual ailments of football season. “I didn’t think nothing worse until they had to put him in intensive care (at a hospital on Saturday), when he was having shortness of breath,” said Sharon Moore, Aaron’s mother. Harris succumbed on his third day hospitalized, shocking football teammates and coaches on the small roster at Wellborn High, where “Tootie” was a senior-class leader beloved by students and staff. “We tried to keep it together, the coaches tried to keep it together, for the younger guys,” said senior Dalton Screws, Harris’ friend and teammate, “but if you knew Tootie, you would know why it was hard. It was losing one of the best people we knew.” Schoolmates covered Harris’ locker with tribute notes and a Facebook memorial page was loaded with posts from friends of all ages. “Very upsetting,” said football coach Jeff Smith. “We love him (Harris) so much. He was a Panther in the truest sense. He represented our school and our community the best way he could.” Sources: Anniston Star, WVTM-TV and MaxPreps.com.
Nov. 8: Jerson Tizol, 15, Texas, nose tackle for West Brook High School, told family members of suffering a head injury in a freshman game on Oct. 26, and medical examination revealed both hemorrhaging of his brain and leukemia. “He was sent to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he died,” Scott Lawrence reported. “The cause of death was bleeding and swelling of the brain.” The case may qualify as football collision death through follow-up by NCCSIR researchers. Tizol, undersized but intense for line action in football, was an honors student and newcomer to high school who attained sophomore rank for advanced credits earned while in middle school. At Tizol’s former school, Odom Academy, he was remembered as a good athlete, outstanding student and popular personality. “He made friends with everybody,” said Tillie Hickman, Odom principal. “He was a real leader for the children and had an incredible future.” Students and teachers at both schools raised thousands of dollars for the Tizol family, to defray medical and funeral expenses. Giovanni Romero led fundraising at Odom, as friend and former schoolmate of Tizol. “We cared about him,” Romero said. “And, you know, we all miss him. We love him, so we are just trying to help out the family. … You’re never going to know what happens to a person, so just treat them nicely, and get along with everybody.” Sources: KFDM-TV, Beaumont Enterprise and West Brook Times.
Nov. 20: Garrett Uekman, 19, Arkansas, tight end for the University of Arkansas, became stricken on Sunday morning in Fayetteville, alone in his campus dormitory room. Uekman was found unresponsive at 11:15 a.m., about an hour after a roommate had seen him playing a videogame, and medical personnel arrived to find the athlete in cardiac arrest. Uekman, listed at 6-4, 254 pounds, was pronounced dead in a local hospital at 12:10 p.m., less than 24 hours after his last football action, playing in a Razorbacks game on Saturday in Little Rock. Coroner Roger Morris concluded that Uekman had a previously undetected heart condition, enlarged heart syndrome, which caused the death. Toxicology scans came back negative and Morris said manner of death was natural, with no sign of foul play. As No.3-ranked Arkansas prepared to face No.1 LSU on Nov. 25, Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino issued a prepared statement, saying in part: “Garrett Uekman was a special member of our family, and we are all saddened by his passing. His loss is a terrible shock, and it makes you realize how precious life is.” The deceased athlete was a former prized recruit, an in-state product, and his parents, Danny and Michelle Uekman of Arkansas, issued a release through the university, stating: “Our son was living his dream of going to the U of A and playing football for the Razorbacks. He loved his school, his coaches, and his teammates and classmates, and was an influence and inspiration to so many people. We ask your love and prayers for Garrett, our family and his friends as we all cope with this heavy and painful loss.” Sources: The Associated Press and University of Arkansas.
Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant worker living in Missouri, USA. His 2001 graduate thesis study for an MA degree at the University of Central Missouri was qualitative media analysis of 466 football reports, historical print coverage of anabolic steroids and HGH in American football, largely based on electronic search among thousands of news texts from the 1970s through 1999. For more information, including contact numbers and his 2009 book, Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at www.fourwallspublishing.com.