Suit: Coaches Ignored Dying Wrestler’s Pleas for Water

Tabatha Wethal Headshot

A lawsuit filed this week in Kentucky alleges that coaches ignored pleas from college wrestler Grant Brace during a “grueling” practice last year before he died of heatstroke.

Brace, 20, wrestled for the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, and died after practice on Aug. 31, 2020.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the lawsuit alleges Brace’s death “was tragic and entirely avoidable.”

The Herald-Leader reported that on Aug. 31, then-head coach Jordan Countryman and assistant coach Jake Sinkovics led the wrestling team on its first training day for the season. After practice, the team had “punishment practice” on the “punishment hill,” which required the Brace and the other wrestlers to sprint up and down a steep hill for seven circuits. Brace completed numerous circuits and then sat down out of exhaustion.

Countryman threatened to kick Brace off the wrestling team. Grant ran up the hill again and was later heard saying “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore,” according to the lawsuit. Another student-athlete attempted to get Brace water, but Countryman refused.

According to WBIR-TV, Brace’s parents Kyle and Jacqueline Brace filed the suit against the university, university president Larry Cockrum, athletic director Chris Kraftick and wrestling coaches Jordan Countryman and Jake Sinkovics.

The lawsuit alleges Grant Brace had medical conditions that required more hydration breaks, and that wrestling coaches ignored his distress and harassed him as his mental and physical condition worsened due to overexertion in the heat.

"Brace suffered from narcolepsy and ADHD, and his high school made accommodations for his conditions in both academics and sports,” the law firm said. “Brace was promised similar accommodations would be made on the wrestling team at the University of the Cumberlands. Those accommodations were often ignored or the cause of Brace being singled out by the coaching staff. Ultimately, the defendants' failure to protect the student-athletes on the wrestling team resulted in the death of Grant Brace."

The lawsuit also says Brace begged for water and help, the Herald-Leader reported. He also reportedly said he felt like his pupils were shaking. He said, “I feel like I am going to die, I feel like my head is going to explode” and, “Please help me, you promised you would help me.”

According to the lawsuit, a year before Brace died, a student-athlete fell during a hill practice and Sinkovics made him keep running, even though he was clearly in mental and physical distress. After seeking medical assistance from a trainer after practice, he was rushed to the hospital, the Herald-Leader reported. He suffered a concussion, memory loss, slurred speech and an epileptic disorder.

In a statement, the University of the Cumberlands said Brace’s death was a tragic loss.

“In the wake of this tragedy, the University has tried its best to be sympathetic and respectful to Grant’s family and to ensure that all of its athletic programs, including the wrestling program, were and are being operated in a safe manner,” it stated.

The statement also said the university questions several of the allegations in the complaint and “does not feel that the complaint is a fair reflection of its wrestling program.”

The family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, calling for monetary compensation in an amount to be determined by a jury, WBIR-TV reported. 

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