Copyright 2018 The Commercial Appeal, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
Byhalia High School head football coach John Danley defended himself and his coaching staff against allegations that they returned a 16-year-old player to a Friday night game despite signs the teen was unwell.
Danley said Dennis Mitchell showed no signs of duress before he collapsed on the sideline and later died. Some of Mitchell's family members and classmates — cited in multiple news reports — alleged the sophomore defensive lineman suffered a hard hit on the field, felt woozy and sick on the sidelines before urging coaches to let him back on the playing field.
Danley, who is also assistant principal at the Mississippi school, provided game footage to The Commercial Appeal and described his recollection of the moments leading up to Mitchell's collapse during the second quarter.
"We had a turnover — an interception — and the guy returned the ball," Danley said. "You can see, on film, Dennis standing on the sideline cheering."
In the footage, Mitchell was shown off the field during the interception, rehydrating with his teammates.
Danley said Byhalia's defensive strategy includes regular rotations of the defensive linemen. Mitchell was on the sideline as part of that rotation, Danley said.
The video appears to show Mitchell on the field for every defensive snap until the Coahoma County possession that led to the interception, where the defensive lineman does leave the game momentarily.
Later, Mitchell returned to the sidelines just before the interception.
"We went on offense — we started driving the ball for three or four plays — and on film you can see Dennis walking along, following the (offense) like a lot of young players do," Danley said. "Then, you can see on film — I think it was play 52 — where you see the reaction on the sideline."
As Byhalia's offense marched into Coahoma County territory, numerous players and coaches rushed to aid a fallen Mitchell, who was on his back and unresponsive. In the film, an ambulance appears a couple of plays later to transport him to a Clarksdale hospital.
Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said Tuesday that Mitchell suffered "seizure-like activity" and was pronounced dead at 8:40 p.m.
Meredith added that Mitchell suffered a nose bleed during practice the day before his death.
Danley disputed that the teen suffered a nose bleed the day before the game, adding "on Thursdays, we have a no-contact walkthrough."
Danley said Mitchell never showed any signs of poor health during his tenure as coach.
The coach vehemently denied allegations that he would allow any player to return to action after exhibiting signs of concussion, sickness or major injury. He used junior wide receiver Kyle Edwards as an example, who was removed early in the first quarter of Friday's game after a helmet-to-helmet hit by a Coahoma County special teamer on a kick return down the right sideline. In the film, Edwards was never shown on the field following the hit.
On the topic of having no certified athletic trainer on the field during Mitchell's collapse, Danley said it comes down to funding and that "every coach in the state would love to have one."
"Byhalia and a lot of smaller schools across the country, we don't have access to (certified athletic trainers), he said. "We only have a small clinic here. If any of the kids suffer an injury, we have to send them to Collierville or Olive Branch — bigger cities — to orthopedic doctors who can see them."
Danley said he has never experienced a similar tragedy in his 30 years of playing and coaching football. He understands that Mitchell's family has a right to be angry and wants answers. Still, the coach is hurt by their allegations.
"It's sad to me because I've been around (Dennis) since he was in the seventh grade, when I was the assistant principal at the middle school," Danley said. "For the family to try to blame me or point fingers at the coaching staff for negligence or doing something improper to this young man, it's really devastating to me."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter