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High school football team solves Ramadan, heatstroke problem in one fell swoop

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The football team at Dearborn (Mich.) Fordson High School reflects the population of its student body, in that both are heavily of the Arabic persuasion.

The challenge for the football team comes when Ramadan, a holy month in Islam whose most prominent feature is the requirement that Muslims refrain from eating and drinking in daylight hours. Dearborn Fordson has learned from past experience that when Ramadan falls during football season, not eating and drinking, intended to bulk up the spiritual strength of the players, tends to sap their physical strength. Plus, players refusing water during hot August practices can be a tad dangerous.

So the Tractors, as they are called, came up with a way to solve the conflict between two religions (Islam and football), prevent heat exhaustion AND give their players a legitimate excuse for breaking curfew. From the Press & Guide Newspapers in Dearborn:

Fordson coach Fouad Zaban said the plan was to work from midnight until about 5 a.m. during the preseason, which this season falls during the period of Ramadan fasting.

“We’ve always had to practice and do some work while most of the kids were fasting and we’ve done what we can to adjust everyone’s schedule,” said Zaban, “but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to really do something about it.

“School hasn’t started yet and we don’t have a game for three more weeks, so we can change our schedule around and now we won’t have players running around out there when it’s 90 degrees and they can’t get a drink of water.

“It’s a safety issue, but we think it’s going to be fun, too.”

On top of that, the players will get to spend their fasting time the easiest way possible: sleeping.

Actually, having midnight practices might not be a bad idea for the non-Muslim football population as well, at least as a way to beat the heat. Already this summer, there have been reports out of Atlanta, Kansas City, Rowan County, Ky., of high school football players being taken to hospitals because of heat exhaustion. In the Louisville area — where one Jason Stinson was tried but acquitted after one of his players died during a hot practice — one Christian high school is starting before sunrise.

And its training table isn’t even halal.

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Written by rkcookjr

August 11, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Update on the Stinson trial: Are the jurors watching "The Biggest Loser"?

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player-thumbOn Thursday, the jury is scheduled to start deliberating the case of David Jason Stinson, on trial in Louisville on reckless homicide and wanton endangerment charges in the August 2008 death of one of his players. 15-year-old Max Gilpin, who died three days after overheating at one of Stinson’s Pleasure Ridge Park High School practices. I would say, as said numerous times before the trial, that the chances of convicting Stinson are slim. Not that it has anything to do with the trial, but those thoughts intensified after watching a recent episode of a weight-loss show that featured people getting yelled at and collapsing of heat stroke.

You can go to the site of Stinson’s hometown Louisville Courier-Journal for the best blow-by-blow coverage, including video archives and live testimony. In my never-earned-a-JD legal opinion, the prosecution’s presentation created plenty of reasonable doubt, with discussion about how Gilpin had a viral infection the day of the fateful practice that had already elevated his body temperature, as well as discussion about his use of Adderall and creatine, which can accelerate dehydration.

Then there was the county coroner saying he never performed an autopsy because he didn’t see any “malfeasance,” with the coroner and investigators saying this was the first homicide case they could remember where an autopsy hadn’t been performed. (The official ruling is that Gilpin died of septic shock.) Also, the lead investigator said he never talked to any medical professionals. Meanwhile, players testified that while Stinson ran a tough practice in 94-degree heat-index conditions, he did allow water breaks and didn’t time the end-of-practice wind sprints that immediately preceded Gilpin’s collapse — that is, he allowed players to run them at their own pace, an unusual move when a coach is having players run gassers.

To me, these creates plenty of reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case, which is based on the assertion that Stinson denied his players water breaks in the heat, and thus created the conditions for Gilpin’s death. Not enough reasonable doubt for the judge to uphold a motion by the defense to dismiss the case. But I would be shocked if Stinson got sent to jail.

The case is getting a lot of attention because it’s the first time, that anyone knows of, a coach has been charged for the practice- or game-related death of player. It also has many coaches and organizations, legitimately, looking over their policies about heat safety, medical disclosures and emergency treatment. But it also has coaches at every level fearing whether pushing players to their physical limits is a criminal act.

You don’t have to be a hard-ass to do that — it’s what coaches, such as myself, often do. Sometimes you have players run a little extra to get their attention. You have them do it to get in shape. You have them do it because you want to know how far your players can go, and you want to show them how far they can go if they push themselves. Do some coaches go overboard with it? Oh, yeah. Was Stinson being kind of a dick saying, before Gilpin collapsed, he wasn’t going to stop having the players run until somebody quit? Oh, yeah. But being a dick by its ownself isn’t a crime.

I was thinking of Stinson when I watched Tuesday night’s premiere of the NBC weight-loss reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” Now its eighth season, regular watchers know what’s coming: morbidly obese people pushed beyond what they believe is their physical limits in the name of losing weight and getting healthy. The show’s trainers, particuarly Jillian Michaels, have built brand names out of being tough-as-nails, no-excuses coaches to the show’s contestants.

Two moments in the show had me wondering whether the jurors watched the show, and what they thought. The first came when one of the contestants collapsed near the end of a mile walk/run, which the contestants were told to do before they had even met their trainers. Contestant Tracey Yukich collapsed about 100 yards short of the finish line, saying her legs had turned to jelly. A medic arrived, but instead of treating her right away, he and the other contestants dragged her to the finish for the purported reason that she would have been so disappointed had she not made it. After she “finished,” Yukich’s eyes started rolling to the back of her head, and she was unresponsive. A helicopter had to be called to the scene, and Yukich had to spent the rest of the week in the hospital.

The cause of her problems, which were not mentioned on the show: heat stroke. In many ways, Yukich’s situation was a lot like the way Gilpin’s collapse was described. And like at that practice, Yukich wasn’t whisked off right away — at first there seemed to be some confusion and disbelief that prevented a rush to treatment. And this was on a show packed with medical staff, not a high school football team that may or may not have a trainer present.

You can fault “The Biggest Loser” producers for possibly being the ones who wanted to see Yukich cross the finish line. After all, in a show predicated upon the conceit that even the fattest among us can push ourselves physically, nothing would send America back to Ding Dongs as watching a contestant die before reaching the end of a workout. While I know the producers have a storyline to push, I also know that nothing would get the show canceled faster than someone dying, period. But as to the argument that Stinson and the other coaches didn’t react quickly enough — well, it appears few ever do, even when they have the training to do so.

The second moment on “The Biggest Loser” that had me thinking of Stinson was the relationship between trainer Jillian Michaels and 476-pound Shay Sorrells, the heaviest contestant ever. Michaels has built a lucrative brand off of being a hard-ass, and she was screaming at Sorrells when she quit in the middle of a workout. Now Sorrells is a troubled soul who was in foster care most of her childhood because of a heroin-addicted mother, and at 476 pounds she was being put through a workout that would have a lot of fit people heaving. But Michaels was yelling, calling her a quitter, saying it was time to stop being the victim. There was no mercy.

Funny thing is, the tough-as-nails approach appeared to work. After Michaels ignored Sorrells while she had a good cry outside, Sorrells came back in and finished the workout.

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I’m not going to argue whether Michaels was right in yelling at Sorrells as a means of inspiration. But millions of people, perhaps including Stinson jury members, watch “The Biggest Loser.” Even if they were never yelled at by a football coach, they’re familiar with trainers and coaches who push, cajole, and, yes, yell, as a means of inspiration and drawing out the best in somebody. “The Biggest Loser” is as mainstream as it gets.

Knowing that, it’s hard for me to believe that jurors are going to look at Stinson’s contact and see anything unusual. Does that mean everything he did was all right? Probably not. In the end, Max Gilpin’s death is going to go down as a tragedy that was more about the unique circumstances of a child’s health doing a certain activity on a certain day than it is a referendum on whether coaches should tone it down. If nothing else, Stinson’s trial is causing coaches to re-examine what they do; I know I will. But it won’t send Stinson to prison.

As the Stinson turns

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A lot has happened since the last time we discussed David Jason Stinson, the Louisville high school football coach facing criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit after one of his players, Max Gilpin, collapsed in practice and died.

To summarize what’s happened in the last month, ever since Stinson refused to answer questions at his deposition for the civil lawsuit:

Feb. 16: Pleasure Ridge Park High School principal David Johnson, Stinson’s boss and a former football coach at the school, didn’t do himself or his football coach any favors by saying during his deposition that he never investigated what happened during that fateful Aug. 20, 2008, practice — bad enough, except he emailed one parent that he had conducted a “thorough investigation.” He also said he deleted any parent emails because they appeared to be “hate mail” — even though, as the aforementioned sentence shows, he responded to messages from parents describing what they saw and heard at that football practice. Finally, Johnson said athletic director Craig Webb didn’t tell him about Gilpin’s collapse until 18 hours after it happened. Webb told the school district athletic director, as is protocol. Gilpin died of septic shock on Aug. 23, three days after his collapse. (Full deposition, thanks to the Louisville Courier-Journal, is here.)

Feb. 19: Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman says his office will look at how Johnson handled the Gilpin incident. “[W]e’re studying the deposition and working with him on some of the issues,” he said. One issue: trying to recover the emails Johnson deleted. However, Berman also told the Courier-Journal that the district began investigating the Gilpin case two days after it happened, and that information it gathered contradicts other accounts of Stinson and his assistants denying players water and running them excessively on a day the heat index hit 94.

Feb. 22: A Louisville judge approves adding Johnson, Webb and assistant football coach Josh Lightle as defendents in the civil suit, joining Stinson and five other assistants. The judge also demands the school district hand over its internal investigation.

Feb. 24: The Kentucky House Education Committee clears legislation that would require ice pools at all high school practices and games when the heat index is 94 degrees or above; requires coaches to be trained in the use of automatic external defibrillators for treating cardiac arrest (they already must know CPR); encourages school boards to purchase the devices and make them available at practices at games; and requires the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to revise its heat policy to consider pollution levels on hot days. The Kentucky School Boards Association supports the bill, filed because of Gilpin’s death.

March 2: The full House passes the bill, but without the ice-pool requirement. The bill’s sponsor withdrew on advice of the Kentucky Medical Association, which said it would help the state board of education develop protocol for treating overheating. Emergency physicians worried that ice pools would not be an effective treatment in all cases.

March 2: The prosecution turns over its evidence to Stinson’s defense (he has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide). The most damning evidence (drawn from witness interviews) is that despite the hot day, Stinson denied his players water as he added “gassers” (sprints) at the end of practice because he though his players weren’t hustling enough. Players said Stinson called anyone who couldn’t finish the gassers a “coward.” After Gilpin collapsed, Stinson told players to stay away from him “because you’re not his mother or his nurse.”  Stinson told players he was going to run them until somebody quits, and didn’t let anyone take a water break until the end — and then only briefly.

(An editorial comment here. I’m coaching junior kids in basketball, and believe you me I understand the frustration when you have a group of kids who are farting around or otherwise uninspired. And that’s even though my livelihood and ability to pay my mortgage aren’t predicated on their performance. Even if what the prosecution says is true, a lot of coaches are going to look at what Stinson did and say for the grace of God goes I. Also, they’re going to wonder how to punish players who aren’t sufficiently focused, because extra running is a pretty common penalty. This is why a lot of coaches, sickened as they may be over Gilpin’s death, would see the criminal and civil cases as attacks on their authority and profession.)

March 4: Berman tells the Courier-Journal that Stinson, suspended from coaching and reassigned to noninstructional status since his Jan. 21 indictment, will not be back as head football coach. The newspaper notes that it hopes, what with Pleasure Ridge Park being a public school and all, that religion doesn’t play a part again in whom Johnson hires as football coach. It cites this Aug. 25 response, revealed in his civil suit deposition, that Johnson sent to a parent email (apparently it wasn’t hate mail) about Stinson’s qualifications:  “Our head football coach was hired based not only on his knowledge of football, but also because of his strong Christian beliefs and integrity toward his job and the treatment of all who know him.”

March 7: Former Kentucky medical examiner George Nichols, hired by Stinson’s defense for the civil suit, says it wasn’t heat stroke that killed Gilpin. It was Adderall, a drug prescribed for ADHD that includes an amphetamine, which causes overheating. (Nichols has made a career out of being a medical expert for the defense since leaving public service.) The Courier-Journal shows another doctor the hospital records on Gilpin, and he agrees with Nichols. Having a jury (or juries) accept this finding would be huge for Stinson. The case against him is predicated on his denying water on an excessively hot day. If the death is blamed on Adderall, then Stinson is likely off the hook. Maybe a giant douchenozzle, but off the hook.

March 9: Despite supportive testimony from Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks, the Kentucky Senate Education committee waters down the Gilpin-related bill. Instead, it recommends a study on the issue, given the conflicting medical information on how to treat heat-related injuries, and superintendents’ concern about the cost of buying all those defibrillators and providing all that safety training.

March 13: An athletics safety bill  makes it  through the Kentucky legislature and goes to the governor. It requires coaches to get more extensive emergency medical training. That is put back into the bill after legislators have second thoughts about what Brooks said. It’s been a long time since anything a University of Kentucky football coach said was taken seriously.

And now you may consider yourself up-to-date.

The deposition of David Jason Stinson

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The Louisville Courier-Journal has gotten the video of the deposition of David Jason Stinson, who has three names because I can’t figure out which one he goes by. Stinson has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide in the death of Max Gilpin, a 15-year-old who collapsed in the heat during one of Stinson’s Pleasure Ridge Park High football practices last August. He’s also among those Gilpin’s parents are suing in a separate civil case, which is the subject of the video deposition.

If you haven’t clicked on the link yet, I’ll save you the (lack of) drama: Stinson’s lawyer says he can’t answer any questions because of the criminal case. Most depositions last longer than a Marmoset song.

Much better than the David Jason Stinson Experience.

Meanwhile, a Kentucky legislator has introduced a bill that would require ice pools on hand during high school practices and games when the heat index of over 94 degrees, according to the C-J. The legislator acknowledges its chances of passing are slim, not so much because the Kentucky High School Athletic Association already has standards how to handle the heat, but because there is only three weeks left in the legislative session.

Water, water everywhere

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In the wake of the Jason Stinson indictment, coaches everywhere wish to inform you they won’t deny your children water and kill them.

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The watering can at your child’s next football practice.

The reckless homicide charge filed against Louisville high school football coach Jason Stinson is in part based on witness testimony that he denied his players’ requests for water, thus leading to the heat stroke-related death of 15-year-old Max Gilpin during summer practice. Stinson pleaded not guilty and denies he withheld water.

Whatever the case, it’s becoming clearer that coaches, players and parents, even those who are aware of the need for frequent water breaks, underestimate just how much water their children need to stay hydrated, particularly during hot weather.

As a youth basketball coach, often I’m begging kids to use a water break for drinking water. Not that anyone has collapsed, or come close, but I have kid who say they’re not thristy, or who don’t feel like going. I don’t know how much water they need, exactly, but I do know none is too little. When kids come to the bench during a game, I have them drink water, and I don’t deny any kid who needs to run to the drinking fountain because he or she didn’t bring a bottle.

The point about underestimating water needs was made very well by a caller to the NPR show “Talk of the Nation,” a man who identified himself as a football coach from Chillicothe, Ohio. The Jan. 27 show was devoted to the Jason Stinson indictment.

The caller, who comes in fairly early in the show, says he’s coached football for nine years, and that he is insistent that players take frequent breaks, as well as drink if they’re waiting in line to do a drill in summer practice. Even still, he has had kids succumb to heat exhaustion, and had one case of heat stroke that required the coaches to strip a player down to his shorts and stick him in a cold shower.

Why? Because in this coach’s estimation, the water consumed during practice takes care of only about 15 percent of a player’s hydration needs.

I don’t know out of what orifice he pulled that figure, but it sounds good. He recommends that players drink plenty of water before and after practice. That way, you’re keeping your body consistently hydrated and reducing the risk of overheating. That sounds like good advice for any sport.

The death of Max Gilpin: was it a crime?

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For all his troubles, shit-canned Covenant School coach Micah Grimes of 100-zip fame at least can feel good he’s not Jason David Stinson.

As I mentioned here a few days ago, Stinson, the head football coach at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, Ky., was indicted Jan. 22 on reckless homicide charges after one of his players, 15-year-old Max Gilpin, collapsed and died during practice. Though no autopsy was performed, Gilpin was deemed to have died of heat stroke. His temperature reached 107 degrees on a day with a 94-degree heat index. Stinson is believed to be the first coach indicted based on the death of one of his players during practice or a game.

player-thumbBefore I do a bloodless lawyer-type analysis of what’s going on — which has to be done considering Gilpin’s parents have sued and because of the criminal case — I’ll state the obvious: this is a horrible tragedy for everyone involved. Even as a parent, I can only imagine the devastation, heartache and hurt Max Gilpin’s parents must feel. Even as a youth coach, I can only imagine the guilt — not the criminal kind — and regret Stinson must feel. Not to mention how Gilpin’s teammates and friends, especially those who saw him collapse Aug. 20 only to die three days later, must feel.

However, because the legal system is involved, because the supporters of Gilpin and Stinson, as well as Gilpin’s family and Stinson himself, are being very public about their version of events, and because a conviction of Stinson could have profound effects (good and bad) on how youth coaches conduct their business, a bloodless lawyer-type analysis is what is going to happen.

(By the way, I don’t want to be like Nancy Grace here, going on and on about Caylee Anthony and Natalee Holloway and any other white woman with two e’s at the end of her first name, screaming at the camera and at her guests. I’m going back and forth between Dallas Academy and the Kentucky death because those are the biggest youth sports stories going at the moment. Plus, I’m not going to yell at anybody. At least, not until I get my webcam and start v-logging.)

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This is why I haven’t posted my picture yet.

In Sunday’s Louisville Courier-Journal, Gilpin’s parents told their side of the story. Gilpin’s father, Jeff, said he arrived at the end of practice to see players running, and was told the coach was upset because they hadn’t practiced hard enough, and had not come back soon enough from a water break. He said it was 18 to 25 minutes before a coach suggested calling 911. He didn’t think of blaming the coaches initially, but he and his ex-wife, Michele Crockett (Max’s mother) changed their minds.

Gilpin said he wanted to support the coaches, some of whom “were the fathers of Max’s best friends.” But in the months since, he has felt a growing need to find out why Max died. After the Jefferson County grand jury’s decision to indict Stinson, Gilpin “felt betrayed by the coach, and I felt sad for Max.”

“If they found enough criminal evidence to prosecute him, I want him to be prosecuted,” Gilpin said.

Crockett said the indictment “was like someone was finally listening” to her desire to pursue the truth.

“This is not something that I pushed or conjured up,” she said. “I just want to know what happened.”

Gilpin and Crockett also say they are frustrated that the school district’s investigation hasn’t been completed.

“I don’t understand the holdup — it’s been five months,” Crockett said.

The district’s investigation is continuing, spokeswoman Lauren Roberts said Friday. Superintendent Sheldon Berman couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jeff Gilpin also addressed rumors about medications Max was taking. Yes, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Max was taking creatine, a muscle builder, but stopped one month before practice. And Max was taking Adderall, commonly prescribed for ADHD. The story doesn’t say he was diagnosed with it, but Jeff Gilpin said Max’s Adderall prescription was noted on his school physical forms.

Why does it matter what Max would have been taking? Because one side effect of creatine AND Adderall is dehydration. I’m sure Stinson’s lawyers will be pouncing on that to explain why Max, and only Max, suffered severely at that day’s practice. (Another player collapsed in the heat, but recovered quickly. No other team members reported suffering any heat-related medical problems.)

It seems like any criminal case will rest on whether Stinson denied water in violation of Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules governing water breaks during extreme heat. (The Louisville school district says he didn’t.) It also could rest on whether Stinson knew about Max Gilpin’s supplement and medication history, and failed to heed warnings that perhaps he needed extra water. After all, Stinson is hardly the first coach to call for running, even extra running, on a hot day. Particularly in preseason practice, the workouts are as much about conditioning as they are learning how to play football. You have to know as a coach and teammate how much activity a player can stand.

So I highly doubt Stinson will get convicted.

However, I don’t let him off the hook. When it’s a 94-degree heat index, common sense says players under pounds of pads, or even players who aren’t, need extra water breaks. Also, punishing players for not practicing hard enough in that weather is a huge injury risk. I’m sure Stinson, a former high school and college football player, got put through that wringer numerous times, but that doesn’t mean it was right, nor that it is even effective. I’m not moved by Stinson and his coaches’ reported statement that they were going to make the players run until some quit the team — that’s the kind of coach bloviation that’s endemic to preseason workouts. However, I am moved by the idea that Stinson might have been ignorant that there’s a fine line between pushing your team to its limits and pushing them for the sake of being an asshole.

Speaking of assholery, while I understand Stinson has supporters of his own, the mantra that he is a “man of God” makes me want to run laps in the heat until I vomit.

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God wants you to keep coaching. (Photo illustration appears on a Facebook group supporting Stinson.)

If you look at the video that is posted with this Courier-Journal story on a rally outside Stinson’s home, you’ll see how uncomfortably close the cult of the coach rubs up against the Christian faith. Stinson, who did not organize the rally, reads a verse of scripture. A supporter has a sign saying “Trust the Lord.” Stinson makes a point of saying no matter what happens, “God is good.”

Um, Coach Stinson, as far as I know, God’s name is not on the indictment sheet, so His is not the goodness on trial here.

It depends what the meaning of “reckless” is

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A Louisville, Ky., grand jury indicts a high school football coach on reckless homicide charges related to the heat stroke death of a 15-year-old during practice. While a report compiled for the American Football Coaches Association finds 114 football-field heat stroke deaths from 1960 to 2007, apparently Pleasure Ridge Park coach David Stinson is the first to face criminal charges for one. First the story, and then the question of what it means for anyone coaching youth sports:

From the Associated Press:

A high school football coach should have realized a player could collapse from heat stroke in the broiling weather during practice, a prosecutor said in announcing reckless homicide charges in a youth’s death.

A grand jury indicted David Jason Stinson on Thursday in the death of Max Gilpin, 15, a sophomore offensive lineman at Louisville’s Pleasure Ridge Park High School. It was Stinson’s first year as head coach when the player collapsed and had trouble breathing.

Heat exposure deaths happen occasionally in football from the sandlot to the pros, the most famous example being Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer in 2001. Lawsuits have been filed in many of those cases, but no evidence can be found that a coach has ever been charged in the deaths.

The heat index, used to measure how hot it feels based on temperature and humidity, reached 94 degrees during the Aug. 20 practice. Gilpin’s temperature reached 107 degrees at the hospital, authorities said. He died three days later.

No autopsy was performed, but the coroner’s office said it appeared Gilpin died of complications from heat stroke.

The reckless homicide charge means grand jurors didn’t find that Stinson’s actions intentional or malicious, said Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel, but that “a reasonable man should have realized something like this could have occurred.”

Stinson’s attorney, Alex Dathorne, told The Associated Press that the coach maintains his innocence and looks forward to “bringing out the whole story.”

I’m no legal scholar, but I highly doubt David Stinson will get convicted. Among the reasons is, if what his attorney says is true, the grand jury indicted only on the word of one police detective.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has stated guidelines for handling extreme heat. At a 94-degree heat index, the standards are: “Provide ample amounts of water. This means that water should always be
available and athletes should be able to take in as much water as they desire. Optional water breaks every 30 minutes for 10 minutes in duration. Ice-down towels for cooling. Watch/monitor athletes carefully for necessary action.”

You can argue if the standards for a heat index of 95 degrees of fewer are sufficient, but if the coaches followed them, that would seem to speak against being “reckless. (I say coaches because Gilpin’s divorced parents have filed suit against Stinson and five assistants, the latter of whom were not indicted.) Another question that is going to come up, and I hope Max Gilpin’s parents are ready for, is whether the player was on any medications or supplements that would have made him more susceptible to heat stroke. Notably, ephedra has been fingered as a culprit in some cases. Or, had Gilpin had a physical from his family doctor and been cleared to play — or hadn’t been cleared? Did he have an enlarged heart? I’ll note again that no autopsy was performed.

I don’t bring this up to sully the name of an innocent teen, but someone is going to ask why Gilpin and no one else suffered from heat stroke that day. (According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, a second player had to be hospitalized for two days after collapsing.)

Of course, if Stinson didn’t follow those basic standards, and if he was being an extreme hard-ass about the heat, then he indeed might be in for some serious trouble. (And I’ve heard a few rumblings the coaches were chiding players for taking water breaks, but nothing is confirmed. On the link above, you can certainly get all sorts of gossip from the reader comments.)

So what are we youth coaches supposed to take from this? Should we be afraid of being sued or indicted if a player is severely injured, or dies?

The biggest problem for most youth coaches is that we get exactly zero training on injury prevention and procedures. At the lower levels, it’s hard sometimes to find enough warm bodies to coach, much less take the time (and the budget) to make them sit through medical training. Or have paramedics at the ready at every practice and game. Statistically speaking, 114 football-related heat stroke deaths, which tragic in every case, over 47 years on all levels is miniscule.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t like some guidelines on what to do if, say, one of my players hits his head on the court and blacks out. (Though I already know what I wouldn’t do, what my teen-aged cousin’s hockey coach did after he came off the ice puking and unaware of his surroundings — send him back on the ice a few minutes later. I think, I hope, we all know what a concussion is now, and that it’s more serious than we once thought.) Both the coach and the player don’t want to sit out, and often the player is the one heavily begging to stay out there.

The best I can do right now is try to read my players to see how they’re feeling. I have one player on my basketball team who has arch troubles, and I make sure to ask him frequently how his feet are feeling, and watch how he plays to look for evidence his feet are bothering him. Unfortunately, sometimes you never know something is wrong until tragedy strikes. I was playing in a basketball league (we’re talking adults here) where a 41-year-old lawyer died on the court from a massive heart attack. He looked OK until the moment he dropped.

We’ve come a long way since Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys being denied water in the Texas desert, and I hope for everyone’s sake that Stinson wasn’t skimping on the water breaks or making Gilpin run extra drills or something.

If anything, more education of coaches, athletes and parents on the risk of injury and signs of severe problems will be a greater help to prevent more Max Gilpins than indicting coaches will.

UPDATE, 2:55 p.m., 1-23-09: Upon further review (and hearing more sources chat about the coaches’ alleged conduct), if indeed the coaches were denying water to players, then they deserve everything they get thrown at them. I know you want to develop tougher players, but if you’re denying water breaks in the equivalent of 94-degree heat, that IS reckless. During my basketball practices, I insist my players take water breaks, and if they tell me they don’t need water, I make them drink some anyway. If a coach is allowing water breaks and otherwise monitoring his or her players, then to me a player collapsing is not a sign of reckless disregard as a result of the coach.