Coleton Staruch

COLETON STARUCH, 15, football and basketball player with Bynum HS (TX), committed suicide at home on 3/21/15. An eighth grader from the same school, whose name was not released, also died on 3/23/15. “We will do what we can to investigate it, but at this time nothing is being confirmed if there was a suicide pact between the students,” said Hill County Sheriff Michael Cox.—“Bynum: Two Student Deaths Rock Small School District”, 3/26/15, Marlena Hamilton.

Corey Borner

COREY BORNER, 23, defensive back with DeSoto HS (TX), was paralyzed on 5/6/09 on the last play of a spring practice while making a hit with his head down. His C5 and C6 vertebrae were broken and he had surgery the next day. “I made a wrong hit…everything froze in my body.” He thought he wasn’t going to make it. His mother, Charlotte, says there are days when both she and her son cry. She preaches compassion for those with disabilities. Borner can use both arms and operates his manual wheelchair. Strengthened by his faith, he graduated from DeSoto, where his jersey was retired, and now speaks at schools, telling kids not to be scared to play football, which he still loves and watches. He would like to play football for just one more day.—“DeSoto team honors paralyzed player with retired jersey”, Fox 4 News 11/17/13, Heather Hays.

Victor J Wright

VICTOR J. WRIGHT, 54, was 15 in 1976 with John Muir HS in Pasadena, CA, when he broke his neck on a botched play. Vertebrae at the second level right under his brain were severed and he was paralyzed from the neck down. This type of injury can be fatal, but Wright survived, earned a college degree, and cofounded a nonprofit organization that provides relief efforts to victims of natural disasters around the world. An ordained minister, he credits his belief in God and the loving care of his family and friends for helping him to live 4 decades beyond his injury and inspire thousands. He has written a book called The Wright Stuff available at—From an overview of the book on

Mike Dwyer

MIKE DWYER, 17, senior halfback with Olean Walsh HS, was hit hard by 2 players while running back a kickoff in a fall 1977 game and died the following Wednesday of a subdural hemorrhage and cerebral contusion. After the play he walked to the huddle and said to his teammate, “I don’t think I can make it,” and fell to his knees. Dwyer, who was 5’5’’ and 145 pounds, was called a sparkplug by his teammates. His coach, Ed McGuire, said, “Mike lives on in the squad.”—“When football is life and death”, 10/8/13, Mary Jo Monnin.

Bret Smith

BRET SMITH, 17, senior fullback with Westfield HS (NY), collapsed after leaving the field in a game on 9/28/75 and died 3 days later of a brain aneurysm. He was operated on to relieve pressure on his brain. His teammate since midget football and quarterback with Westfield, Tim Smith (no relation) said, “He was basically dead when he collapsed on the field.” Robert Smith, Bret’s father, said his son had been complaining of headaches and may have been injured in a 9/19/75 game when he was hit simultaneously by 2 players. Smart and articulate, Smith was senior class president and team captain. Westfield played their next game 6 days after Smith’s death with his brother, Brian, in Bret’s place in the backfield. The game saw 12 fumbles and ended in 0-0 tie.—“When football is life and death”, 10/8/13, Mary Jo Monnin.

Chris Canales

CHRIS CANALES, 31, senior defensive back with San Marcos Baptist Academy (TX), while making a touchdown-saving tackle in a game on 11/2/01 fractured his C5 and C6 vertebrae, which left him a quadriplegic. The running back tried to leap over Canales and his hip collided with the top of Canales’ helmet. He asked the emergency medical technicians what was wrong and they did not answer. “Once you try to get up and can’t move, you know something is wrong,” he said. His father, Eddie Canales, said, “When we got the X-Rays back, it was horrifying. His neck was stretched as far as it could be without being separated.” Chris Canales, who was all-conference and received 3 college scholarships to be a punter, was in ICU for 2 months and almost died twice. One year later he and his father attended the state championship game in the Alamodome and witnessed a spinal cord injury in the game. Chris said to Eddie, “Dad, we have to help him. I know what he’s going through. You know what his family is going to go through. We need to help him.” That was the inspiration behind Gridiron Heroes, a foundation that helps those with spinal cord injuries ( Chris can now feed himself, brush his teeth, comb his hair, and is determined to walk again. He does not blame football. His father gets hate mail because he still supports the game and said, “Gridiron Heroes has never been about deterring people from playing football.”—“Far from NFL’s bright lights, paralyzed players carry on”, 9/11/07, Tim Dahlberg, AP Sports Columnist. “Spinal Cord injuries Are No Longer a Hidden Topic”, 10/4/13, Joseph Misulonas.

Heat Stress Dangers

Between the years 2000 and 2007, twenty deaths that occurred during high school and collegiate football practice were attributed to heat stress.  From 1980 to 2009, there were 58 documented hyperthermia deaths of American-style football players in the United States.  Hyperthermia is elevated body temperature due to failed thermoregulation that occurs when a body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Extreme temperature elevation then becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death.  When played in hot weather, football lends itself to these dangers because the protective equipment worn creates microclimates above the skin surface but beneath the uniform, reducing heat dissipation and generating the risk of heat exhaustion and exercise-induced hyperthermia.  It’s recommended that in hot weather practices players suit up in stages and only wear equipment appropriate to the practice activity.  For example, helmets can be removed for general fitness training when they are not needed for protection.  Also recommended are frequent cooling breaks in the shade with ice water and misting fans, and having players sit in cold tubs after practice may also reduce risk and accelerate recovery.–“The Dangers of Heat Stress for Athletes”, 3/23/15, Mike Willey.

Kacey Strough

KACEY STROUGH, 19 (approximately), was 16 with Bedford HS (IA) junior varsity in September 2012 when he was hit repeatedly in the back of his head with footballs thrown at close range during practice while being bullied by teammates. He had migraines, then lost the use of his left arm and leg. Doctors discovered a blood clot near his brain stem and Strough was put into a medically induced coma, undergoing a 7-hour brain surgery. Strough had reported the incident to his coaches the day it happened. Strough’s family has filed a lawsuit in federal court against his former coach, Robert McCoy, claiming that his brain injuries were the result of in-team bullying and have left him permanently disabled. The suit claims McCoy, though he said he would look into the incident, failed to take proper action. The suit also claims Strough went to administrators multiple times to complain about bullying and was told they would look into the allegations, but nothing changed.—“Student coma leads to investigations by police, school officials”, 11/6/12. “Iowa teen’s lawsuit against football coach alleges team bullying caused brain damage,” 4/3/13, Cameron Smith.

Defensive Dangers

“The majority of catastrophic injuries occur while playing defensive football. In 2012, two players were on defense and one was in a weight lifting session. Since 1977, 228 players with permanent cervical cord injuries were on the defensive side of the ball and 55 were on the offensive side with 44 unknown. Defensive backs were involved with 34.6 percent of the permanent cervical cord injuries followed by member of the kick-off team at 9.2 percent and linebackers at 9.5 percent.”–“Defensive backs at greatest risk for serious head and neck injuries from football”,  AANS (American Association of Neurological Surgeons) 2012.

Robert Back

ROBERT BACK, 17, junior lineman with Belt HS (MT), suffered a traumatic brain injury in a game on 9/12/14 and collapsed on the sidelines. He is technically in a coma at Craig Hospital in Englewood, CO, though he is alert. His father, Robert Sr., said, “Overall, he’s making some small improvements. It’s a very slow healing process. Realistically, I don’t know where he’s going to be.” He said his son’s recovery could realistically take years. Donations can be made out to Robert Back and sent to Belt Valley Bank/P.O. Box 196/Belt, MT 59412.—“Robert Back fighting for recovery from football injury”, 2/16/15, Phil Drake.