CODY STEPHENS, 18, senior offensive lineman with Crosby HS (TX), died in his sleep on 5/6/12 of cardiac arrest related to Hypercardiomyopathy (HCM). He weighed approximately 300 pounds and had accepted a football scholarship to attend Tarleton State University in his home state. His parents, Scott and Melody Stephens, started the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation, which provides free electrocardiograms to students. An electrocardiogram, a noninvasive test of electrical activity in the heart, could have caught Cody’s condition. There are proposals in the Texas legislature that would require high school students to receive an electrocardiogram as part of the physical exams they must undergo before participating in athletics. Symptoms of HCM could include fainting incidents, tightness in the chest, unusual tiredness, or getting winded easily.—“Proposal: Require Heart Screenings for Student Athletes”, The Texas Tribune 2/11/15, Reeve Hamilton. “Doctors confirm cause of Cody Stephens’ death”, yourHoustonNews.com 9/15/12, David Taylor, The (Lake Houston) Observer.
ROCKY CLARK, 27, running back with Eisenhower HS (IL), died on 1/6/12 from complications to his lungs and kidneys after having been paralyzed by a tackle in a game on 9/15/2000 when he was 16. He replaced an injured player and 4 plays later suffered 2 broken vertebrae in his neck and a spinal injury, which left him a quadriplegic. He received top-notch health care for 10 years through the catastrophic medical insurance provided by Community High School District 218, but by August 2010 he had reached the $5 million maximum of the policy and his medical needs were no longer covered. Many quadriplegics die within 10 years after their injury because of lung or kidney failure, and Clark said he felt he was being punished for living too long. After losing coverage, he relied on Medicaid, some state support and his mother, Annette, who did her best to perform the work formerly handled by 3 nurses. The family’s pastor, Rev. Anthony Williams, said, “His battle shows that every American ought to have quality health care despite their economic woes. In his memory, we’d like to see legislation passed so that in the future athletes will be covered by insurance for life. That’s the most important way we can remember Rocky.”–“Rasul ‘Rocky’ Clark, 1984-2012: Paralyzed in football game, he fought losing battle to keep health insurance”, ChicagoTribune.com 1/6/12, Lolly Bowean & Ryan Haggerty.
QUADAAR WHITE, 15, with Upper Darby HS (PA), died on 8/31/10 after a week in a coma from a brain injury caused by his head colliding with another player’s knee at practice on 8/24. “When police and the paramedics arrived, he was not breathing, no pulse,” said Michael Chitwood, police superintendent of Upper Darby. White was revived and transported to Children’s Hospital in critical condition. “It’s just a tragic accident,” Chitwood said.–“Upper Darby boy, 15, dies from football injury”, Philly.com 9/1/10, Robert Moran, Inquirer Staff Writer.
TAYLOR DAVISON, 10, the only girl on her team in the Bartlett (IL) Raiders Athletic Association, died on 9/2/02 from a blow to the head that led to a blood clot on the right side of her brain. She collapsed as she walked off the field with her coach. The Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled that her death was caused by blunt trauma that led to a clot under the surface of her brain, saying that she had been hit during a full-contact practice earlier in the week. Taylor’s mother, Susan Davison, questioned the ruling, saying doctors had told her that her daughter had malformed blood vessels in her brain because she was a premature infant. Dr. John Grant, a neurosurgeon at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said it would’ve taken a serious hit to cause the type of injury described in the medical examiner’s report. She played several positions, including nose tackle, on a team with members in the 90 pound range. Barry Brinn, president of the athletic association, defended his coaches and said, “There was no specific instance that you could pick out, no particular time when she was tackled that you could say, ‘That was the one.’” Peggy Lawson, an aunt who spoke for the family, said Taylor’s death was simply a tragic accident. “I wouldn’t discourage any of them from playing football.” Taylor was an avid horseback rider, good at math and science, and outgoing. She was protective of her twin brother, Tremor, who got her interested in football and is a player himself. “For some reason she loved being competitive with the boys,” said her father, Todd Davison. “She begged to be on the team. She wanted to practice every day, and she cried last year when the season was over.”–“Girl dies after collapsing at football practice”, USAtoday.com 9/4/02, Martha Irvine, AP. “Medical examiner: Death caused by blunt trauma”, ESPN.com 9/4/02, AP.
“I would never let my sons play football.”–Dr. Colin Phipps of San Francisco, father of 3 sons, who worked as a chiropractor for Cal football.
SETH HAYNES, 16, sophomore with Kingston HS (TN), broke his neck going for a tackle on the first play of the game on 10/18/13. He collapsed to the ground and was crying when head coach Brian Pankey reached him. Teammates hoped it was a stinger. Haynes underwent a 5 hour surgery to repair vertebrae in his neck, and was awake and talking afterward, able to move his hands and feet. His teammate, Daniel, said, “He’s the one that likes to joke and have fun.”—“Football Player Breaks Neck”, WVLT Local8now.com 10/21/13, Casey Wheeless.
Twenty-four high school football players between 16 and 18 years old who had never had a concussion wore helmet-mounted accelerometers, which tracked how often and how hard they were hit, during every practice and game. Based on this data, the players were divided into 2 groups, 9 heavy hitters and 15 light hitters. Using an advanced brain imaging technique known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), researchers looked for changes in the white matter of the players’ brains. White matter is made up of millions of nerve fibers that act like communication cables connecting various parts of the brain. DTI measures the movement of water along these nerve fibers, known as fractional anisotropy (FA). In a healthy brain, the movement of water is even and has high FA. More random water movement and a drop in FA suggest brain abnormalities. Although none of the players sustained a concussion, by the end of the season the players in the heavy-hitter group had more significant decreases in FA in certain parts of the brain than those in the light-hitter group. It is not now known if these effects heal over time, such as a bruise on the arm, or if there are permanent long-term effects. Dr. Christopher Whitlow of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is the study’s author.—“High School Football Tied to Brain Changes, Even Without Concussion”, HealthDay.com 12/1/14, Mary Elizabeth Dallas.
PAUL FARRELL, 17, center with Blake HS (MD), was temporarily paralyzed when he collided with 2 players during a kick return in a game on 10/25/13 and fell flat on his back, hitting his cerebellum on the ground. “Waking up it was terrible. I saw a pitch black atmosphere. I had trouble…breathing.” Head coach, Tony Nazarro, held his hand, but knew that Farrell could not feel it. He spent a month in the hospital and thought he would never walk again. He was told by doctors that he could never play contact sports again because another hit could further damage his spinal cord and result in permanent paralysis. Farrell was able to walk one month later and became an assistant coach with the team.—“Blake player learns to coach after injury”, WUSA.com 10/10/14, Diane Roberts & Allison Frick.
Including playoffs, some San Francisco Bay Area high school football teams play 16 games, the equivalent of a full NFL regular season schedule. Many others, depending on when they’re eliminated in the playoffs, play 13 to 15 games, as many as many college teams.
HAYDEN SCHAUMBERG, 16, junior with Watseka Community HS (IL), suffered a broken neck in a collision on a kick return in a game on 10/17/14. He had emergency surgery but still could not move large parts of his body afterward. “It’s probably been one of the worst weekends of my whole life,” said Steven Lucas, Watseka’s head coach, a close personal friend of Hayden’s family. Hayden’s mother, Jolyn, said that she does not blame the Central player who collided with her son. According to the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, there have been 47 football-related spinal cord injuries between 2007 and 2011 from which the player never fully recovered. In 7 cases in 2010, alone, 7 players were permanently disabled. The Illinois High School Association has discussed eliminating kickoffs from the game. Contributions can be made to a trust fund at 1st Trust and Saving Bank/120 E Walnut St/Watseka Il 60970/C/O Hayden.—“While Watseka rallies around Hayden, the question of safety in football returns”, Daily-Journal.com 10/20/14, Lee Provost & Kyle Games.
4/18/15 Schaumberg Update: Illinois Coach Tim Beckman and his team were so inspired by Hayden Schaumberg’s recovery from his October 2014 spinal injury that he was named honorary coach for the team’s spring game. Schaumberg, who spent many days doing 6 hours of rehab, walked onto the field without a sign of his injury. “I feel normal again. That sense of normalcy is back again.”—“Injured football player named honorary coach”, Illinoishomepage.net 4/20/15, Gary Brode & Maggie Hockenberry.