The parents of a South Hill, Va., student-athlete came before the Mecklenburg County School Board this week to offer a detailed account of how their son — seriously injured this spring playing high school baseball — has been failed by the county school division.
As reported by The Mecklenburg Sun, Ryan and Crystal Crutchfield on Monday shared the story of their son Lucas’ traumatic brain injury as part of their push for better training of coaches and athletic trainers, enhanced safety precautions for student-athletes and better communication by school personnel.
Lucas Crutchfield was injured March 23 while playing shortstop during practice for the Mecklenburg County High School baseball team. He was struck in the head by a ground ball that took a bad hop.
Crystal Crutchfield, who oversaw the nutrition program for Mecklenburg County Public Schools until 2019, said she was appalled by how coaches and other school personnel “reacted to the accident” that caused her son to suffer a traumatic brain injury. Since the injury, she said she and her husband have had to initiate communication in every aspect of Lucas’ injury and academics, with little help from school staff.
She called the lack of communication from the MCPS Central Office and school personnel “humiliating.” Lucas was approved for homebound training July 23 and hasn't returned to school, but even the handling of Lucas’ homebound instruction has been a problem, Crystal Crutchfield said, as reported by Susan Kyte of the Sun.
None of his teachers knew he was homebound at an Aug. 9 meet-the-teacher event, according to his mother, who told trustees, "Lucas was not even on the homebound list the first week of school until one of his homebound teachers spoke up."
Crutchfield said the ball, which was moving at an estimated speed of 80 miles per hour, hit Lucas’s left temple in the hippocampus region. The hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory.
Crutchfield said she does not blame the coaches for the injury, but the aftermath has incited her ire and compelled her and husband Ryan to speak to school trustees.
She said, “after being hit, Lucas was sent walking from the high school baseball field to the athletic center with another athlete to look for the [athletic trainer] …. Every doctor has said this was a huge mistake.”
After a brief assessment, Crutchfield said the trainer dismissed Lucas, sending him back to the baseball diamond. “At no time did the trainer talk to the coach to convey that Lucas should not be practicing. At no time did we as parents get a call to inform us that our child had been hurt, nor was 911 called.”
Crutchfield said her son sat at practice for another hour with a throbbing headache and cognitive problems. “He was not able to recognize the bright blue glove that was right in front of him,” she said, as reported by Kyte.
As soon as she saw her son, Crutchfield said she “knew immediately something was wrong. On the way home, Lucas complained of a throbbing headache, being nauseous, feeling sick, and floating. He could not tell me his birthday, his brother’s name or what grade he was in.”
A trip to the emergency room confirmed what the Crutchfields suspected — their son was suffering from a traumatic concussion. Further examination found that Lucas has a traumatic brain injury as well as agnosia (inability to recognize things), hemineglect (an unawareness or unresponsiveness to objects, people, and other stimuli) and amnesia (memory loss), Kyte reported.
In the days and weeks since his injury, Lucas has been seen by “countless doctors for traumatic brain injury, [the family takes him] to Georgia every six weeks for rehab and [he receives] ongoing speech and physical therapy in South Hill,” his mother said.
While Lucas is making some progress, Crutchfield said his recovery is slow and he lives every day with excruciating head pain.
Crutchfield did not identify the coach, assistant coach or athletic trainer who she said did not provide adequate treatment for her son. Nor did she identify who, in a meeting with high school principal Magie Wilkerson, athletic director Chris Martin, and the unnamed athletic trainer and baseball coach, told her that “Lucas was seen by the athletic trainer [and] he only complained of a headache.”
Unknown to them, Crutchfield had in her possession the athletic trainer’s notes that reported Lucas as “having a headache, pressure in his head, dizziness, feeling slowed down/in a fog, confusion, difficulty concentrating/remembering. He knew zero out of five words in a delayed recall test,” she recounted for school trustees, according to Kyte's Sun reporting.
It was during that meeting with school leadership and athletic staff that Crutchfield said she learned that Wilkerson was never informed about the incident. “What is even more appalling is that the principal was not aware of our son’s accident until two weeks after the incident when I called a meeting with the principal, athletic director, athletic trainer and coach,” she told the School Board on Monday.
Crutchfield pointed out that the handling of Lucas’ injury was directly at odds with the protocols outlined in the MCPS 2022-2023 athletic handbook. The handbook states that “even a ding or getting your bell rung can appear mild but can be serious.”
She asked but received no response from board members or superintendent of schools Scott Worner to the question: “Why are coaches and trainers not erring on the side of caution and calling 911? Why are parents not being called even for the slightest injury? What is being done to help our athletes and prevent this from reoccurring, especially since most of the individuals involved are still employed with the division?”
Ryan Crutchfield told the school board of his efforts to get answers about training, insurance and other matters. He said no one in the athletic department could say with certainty what, if any, training is given to coaches. Instead, he was told, “We’re working on that.”
He said he also learned that the county’s insurance coverage for injuries sustained by student-athletes “is an economy plan that does not cover the services his son needs.” For a couple of hundred dollars more, he said the school division could have a premium plan.
As he has sought to reconstruct the events of that day, Ryan Crutchfield said he’s been told there is no video footage of the accident because the cameras that school has set up at the athletic fields were not working at the time. He was also told that the radios that school personnel use to communicate with each other “only work inside the school building.
“Everybody has a cellphone but no call was made,” he added.
Ryan Crutchfield, who is trained in emergency medical services as the fire chief of Dinwiddle County, said his offers to help train athletic staff and develop protocols have not been met with a response.
“At what point is children safety going to be a priority?” he asked trustees.
Crystal Crutchfield said that because of his traumatic brain injury, Lucas is unable to handle instruction via computer. “More needs to be done to make sure students with special services are getting the quality education they deserve,” she told the board.
“I look at everything through the liability end. I have two other boys, they all play baseball. Our biggest thing is advocating to parents, coaches, teachers, administrators, that a concussion can happen in any sport. There needs to be accountability and follow through on all levels. What is it going to take for our students and families to be made a priority?” she asked in closing, as reported by Kyte of the Sun.
According to Kyte, board members offered apologies to the Crutchfields for the handling of their son’s injury and the aftermath.