Playing sports in high school can be a great way for students to get exercise, learn valuable skills, and build friendships. However, when coaches push their student athletes too hard or place them in risky situations, the results can be deadly.
In one recent tragic case, a 16-year-old high school football player died after being told to complete a set of sprints as punishment for arriving late to practice. According to the New York Daily News, high school junior Miles Kirkland-Thomas completed two sprints before collapsing and going into cardiac arrest. He was transported to a Staten Island hospital, where he later died. Although his death is still under investigation, the weather may have been a factor, as temperatures were around 80 degrees Fahrenheit at the time that Kirkland-Thomas collapsed.
Sadly, this isn’t the only recent death or serious injury in high school sports. As much as parents would like to believe that their children will be safe when wearing protective gear and practicing under adult supervision, injuries can occur for a number of reasons. Let’s look at few of the most common causes of high school sports injuries and fatalities.
Heat-Related Injuries and Deaths
Fall sports participants often start practicing during the summer in order to be in shape by the time the season starts, but grueling outdoor practices during the hottest months of the year can be incredibly dangerous and often lead to heat exhaustion. While the National Athletic Trainers Association has a model heat acclimatization policy, many schools do not follow that policy—or even have a qualified athletic trainer on staff.
Although students in all outdoor sports are at risk for heat-related injuries when temperatures are high, rigorous football practices seem to be particularly problematic, and fifty-two high school football players have died of heat-related injuries since 1995. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if schools followed the heat acclimatization policy and knew how to provide the proper treatment—as outlined in the policy—if someone does suffer from heatstroke.
Concussions and Other Brain Trauma
Concussions are another major issue in high school sports, and although the exact number is not known, an estimated 136,000 to 300,000 high school athletes suffer from a concussion every year. Concussions can be particularly dangerous because students often do not realize they have a concussion and will continue practicing or playing their sport, which can cause more serious damage. A second blow to the head may even cause permanent mental damage, such as learning or memory impairment, or even death. Physical contact sports like football and ice hockey are the most obviously risky when it comes to head injuries, but a number of other high school sports also carry a risk of concussion, including baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and even swimming.
Other Head and Neck Injuries
Concussions aren’t the only blunt force injury that high school athletes can suffer. Blows to the head, neck, and spine can cause serious disabilities or death. This is, unsurprisingly, a big risk in football, and in 2013 alone, at least six football players died from spinal or brain damage that occurred during a tackle. Other sports that carry a relatively high risk of falling, such as cheerleading and pole vault, also leave high school athletes susceptible to this type of injury.
Injuries Due to Coach’s Lack of Experience or Error of Judgment
In some cases, injuries are caused by coaches not having the necessary experience in a particular sport or in sports medicine and asking athletes to do something that is unsafe. This is a particularly big issue in less well-known sports that have slowly been growing in popularity, such as lacrosse, and sports that typically take place on the club level but are also sometimes offered at some high schools, such as gymnastics.
In other cases, coaches may have years of experience, but will pressure their athletes to the point that some students end up pushing themselves to exhaustion. Overuse injuries are the most common ailments in high school sports, although athletes who push themselves too hard based on the instructions of their coach can suffer catastrophic injuries, as evidenced by the Kirkland-Thomas case.
When looking at the big picture, the majority of high school sports injuries are relatively minor. However, that’s no consolation to parents who lose their child due to a serious and ultimately preventable sports injury. Parents who believe that a school or coach may be at fault for their child’s serious or fatal injury should speak with a wrongful death lawyer. There’s no way to bring a child back, but holding schools accountable can help prevent accidents in the future.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”