The Hillsborough County (Fla.) School District has admitted that safety protocols were not followed leading up to the death of incoming Middleton High School freshman football player Hezekiah B. Walters, who died during conditioning drills in June.
Walters, 14, had not submitted paperwork that would have documented that he had watched a required video on heat-related safety. His athletic physical form was also missing.
“We believe Hezekiah had an athletic physical, but his family had not uploaded it into our system at the time conditioning began,” superintendent Jeff Eakins said during a press conference, which was reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
Eakins took limited questions from reporters because the school expects a lawsuit to be filed. A law firm representing the Walters family sent a letter to the Middleton High School requesting documents related to the workout that Hezekiah was participating in when he collapsed.
According the Times, the letter stated that Hezekiah’s father had informed Middleton coaches that his son had never performed rigorous training before and “would need appropriate instruction, supervision and guidance while being gradually conditioned into team activities that only experienced and prepared athletes are acclimatized to endure."
Assistant principal Mark Jones has already been demoted over a lack of record keeping. Head coach Fred Reid has transferred to another school.
When Walters died at the hospital, his temperature was 102 degrees. An internal school district investigation found that the players were given plenty of water that day and monitored throughout practice.
Eakins said Middleton does have a defibrillator, but the coaches did not use it on Walters because he was still breathing. The assistants poured cold water on Walters and called 911.
Eakins said the incomplete paperwork was “unacceptable.”
“We have an expectation that our staff will make sure all of the documents are uploaded and checked before any athlete can go on the field,” Eakins said. “That’s one of the reasons why we immediately stopped all conditioning until we could confirm that all student-athletes had submitted their appropriate paperwork. Every school has confirmed that it was checked and that process has been completed.”
Middleton’s trainer was not onsite when Walters died, and the school says it is now recommending that each high school has a full-time athletic trainer. That would include having trainers during the summer. The district also has immersion tubs at each high school that Eakins will recommend be used in warm conditions.
“One full-time trainer at each school cannot be everywhere at all times,” Eakins said. “All our paid coaches will continue to receive emergency medical training. An athletic trainer is not the only answer, but it is a part of our plan.”