Gridiron deaths put focus on more thorough physicals

The Franklin Parish and Sterlington Panthers come out together carrying the jersey of Franklin Parish fallen teammate Tyrell Cameron before the Patriots’ game against the Wossman Wildcats earlier this season. Cameron died in a game between Franklin Parish and Sterlington.

The Franklin Parish and Sterlington Panthers come out together carrying the jersey of Franklin Parish fallen teammate Tyrell Cameron before the Patriots’ game against the Wossman Wildcats earlier this season. Cameron died in a game between Franklin Parish and Sterlington.

High school football deaths across America this season have caught the attention of many people, including lawmakers.

While 12 football-related deaths have occurred at the high school level in the United States this season, several of them have not been ruled to be caused by an injury on the field pending autopsy reports.

Evan Murray, a senior quarterback at Warren Hills High School in New Jersey, died after collapsing on the sideline. Running back Cam’ron Matthews of Alto High School (Texas) collapsed and died on Oct. 16 after what was initially reported as being a seizure on the sideline.

Interactive graphic Deaths on the gridiron

The tragic events even hit close to home on Sept. 4, when Tyrell Cameron of Franklin Parish High School in Winnsboro passed away from a football related injury that was later revealed to be a fractured neck and internal bleeding following an autopsy report by the Franklin Parish Coroner’s office.

U.S. Reps. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, a physician, and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, have introduced a bipartisan bill in Congress titled “High School Football Safety Study Act.”

The co-sponsored legislation would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, to study the causes of football-related deaths.

There is a growing consensus among high school coaches that better physical exams before the season, especially on heart-related issues, could benefit the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and athletes across the nation.

Current physicals look at common factors such as blood pressure but do not dive much deeper. An eyes ears, nose and throat exam and muscle exams also are part of the current physicals.

A passing grade on a physical performed by a doctor must be on file for each student-athlete within the LHSAA.

But a common heart exam, listening with stethoscope, may not pick up on an issue with the heart. Those issues are at the heart of recent football player deaths in America.

From 2009-2014, 19 high school football players across American died from football-related causes. Another 16 players died from what was ruled to be unrelated to the game according to a yearly report released by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. In 2014, the NCCSIR found that three players died of heart-related deaths and four others of heat-stroke/heart condition issues.

The leading cause of high school football player deaths in America has not been related to the game, but sudden cardiac arrest, the NCCSIR says.

“We have physicals, but it is not a fitness test,” Ouachita Christian School coach Steven Fitzhugh said. “Something we did, and I think is a good idea, is we had our players take an EKG before the season.”

The electrocardiogram, or EKG, could help prevent cardiac issues in the game that is so widely respected and played.

“You just don’t know (when there is a heart problem),” Fitzhugh said. “The EKG gives us great insight.”

Dr. Sol Graves, an orthopedic surgeon from Monroe that for years has served as OCS and ULM team doctor, says the EKG could help detect things such as hepertrophic cardiomyopathy, commonly known as an enlarged heart.

“The more tests the better,” Graves said. “But the percentage of deaths is so low in teens playing football compared to the number that play it. There have been discussions of how beneficial it would be.”

Equipment advances no issue

Coaches in northeastern Louisiana who were interviewed by The News-Star spoke highly of the increased measures, especially in equipment technology to keep players safe on the field.

Adams and Riddell are the leading football equipment companies in the nation. Those companies have gone from having “just a few sizes” of shoulder pads and helmets to many in recent years, and Mangham coach Tommy Tharp says the testing procedures are tough.

“They test them on how they absorb,” Tharp said. “The advancements in all of that has come a long way since I was a player.”

“We are playing with the best equipment available,” Fitzhugh said. “As coaches we teach the proper technique, and many of these tragic things — there are so many different situations you can’t speculate on it, because the situations are unique.”

Making the game safer

The National Federation of State High School Associations gives the LHSAA and many other state associations its rules. The NFHS has gone a long way in recent years to help protect player health such as increased emphasis against targeting a player with a big hit and limiting two-a-day practices — a mainstay in the sport for generations.

“The NFHS now allows to only do a two-a-day practice every other day,” Fitzhugh said. “They can’t be back-to-back anymore.”

Franklin Parish coach Barry Sebren, who lost Cameron this season, said it is scary but he maintains, as many coaches, the game is safe.

“Sometimes things happen that are outside your control,” Sebren said. “The LHSAA has done a great job taking measures such as with the training we take on head injuries. But these are tragic accidents. You can’t make anything 100 percent safe. You just have to put things in context.”

The LHSAA has recently established a Medical Advisory Committee. The committee of athletic directors and medical physicians from across the state meet twice per year to come up with recommendations to give the LHSAA Executive Committee regarding player health and safety.

Some of the issues addressed recently by the committee was water breaks put in each quarter during games played August through October to address heat-related issues.

Assistant Executive Director Keith Alexander said the committee is already discussing ways to provide heart tests such an EKG to all student-athletes.

The high cost, an average EKG costs about $100 per person, is something the LHSAA is looking into when deciding how to make them available to every school.

“How do we make them available to everyone from Tensas Parish to Lake Providence to Barbe?” Alexander said. “That is what we are looking at right now. It is an issue that the LHSAA takes very serious, the well-being of all our student-athletes.”

Connect with Cody on Twitter @cfutrellTNS or via e-mail

More Stories

High school football coach at the center of prayer debate gets reinstated, receives $1.7 million settlement

Kennedy was terminated from his coaching position after he continued post-game prayers with students.

Read the full article

Insane Maine HS basketball finish features 4 lead changes in final 21 seconds

The Maine high school playoff game between Thornton Academy and Bonny Eagle had one of the most exciting finishes of the season.

Read the full article
Elijah Moore

Watch: 4-star SG Elijah Moore makes his commitment to Syracuse

Watch Moore announce his decision.

Read the full article
More News