Many questions remain following the collapse and subsequent death of Byhalia High School football player Dennis Mitchell on Friday.
Questions that his grandmother, Adeline Richard, wants answered.
“How can (the coaching staff) just put him back in the game?” Richard asked. “It was hot, he was tired, his head was hurting, he didn’t feel well and he got sick.
“I just don’t understand.”
Richard said her grandson, a sophomore defensive lineman for Byhalia High in Mississippi, absorbed a hard hit early in Friday’s game against Coahoma County High School and was removed. She said the 16-year-old returned to the game upon his request. Mitchell later collapsed on the field after he resumed playing and was taken to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Don Hinton, executive director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, said high school football coaches in the state are required to have first responder training and must abide by specific practice and game regulations.
Those regulations include the ability to administer CPR, easing the student-athletes into pads while progressively ramping up the level of practice intensity over a 14-day period, the availability of cold water immersion tubs during training, and having emergency personnel with ambulances in the vicinity during games.
What’s not required, however, is the inclusion of certified athletic trainers on the sidelines. Hinton said some trainers travel on a rotation, but it is largely up to the host school whether one will be available.
“Schools are responsible for having a certified athletic trainer on site during the games,” he said. “We’d like for all 250 or so schools to have one on site, but it’s just not easy for us to provide one for every game in Mississippi each weekend.”
Hinton added that smaller institutions, such as 2A-classified Coahoma County High, have trouble securing trainers on a regular basis.
There was not a certified athletic trainer at Coahoma County High when Mitchell collapsed. Principal Lynn Lang acknowledged that fact, but also reiterated his school did meet MHSAA requirements.
Houston High School head football coach James Thomas said a certified athletic trainer has been on the Mustangs’ sidelines for over 25 years and that his staff is constantly in contact with them throughout a football game.
“He’s always the first person out on the field, he evaluates the person and then it is ultimately his call whether he can return to play or not,” he said. “(The trainer) wants what is best for the team, but ultimately he wants what is best for that kid.”
Germantown High School head football coach Chris Smith said having a certified athletic trainer on site is a luxury that bigger public schools like his can afford. The Red Devils regularly have an EMT, team doctor and trainer on site.
“If our trainer isn’t familiar with something, the team doctor is there,” he said. “They have the leeway to say whether (an injured player is) cleared to go back in or not. If they deem that a kid isn’t able to go back into the game, then we can’t play him.“