Pennsylvania high school football player dies after collapsing during scrimmage

MARC NARDUCCI, SARAH GANTZ AND ROBERT MORAN
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
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A 16-year-old football player from West Catholic Preparatory High School died Tuesday evening after collapsing during a water break while participating in a scrimmage in Chester County, officials said Wednesday.

Ivan James Hicks Jr., who was listed as 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, was involved in a 7-on-7 scrimmage in Coatesville when he collapsed at about 5:45 p.m., the Chester County Coroner's Office said.

Coaching staff performed resuscitative efforts before Hicks was transported by paramedics to Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville, the coroner's office said. He was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m.

Tomás Hanna, superintendent of the Coatesville Area School District, said in a statement: "Emergency service providers responded immediately and were on the scene within two minutes, joining with two of our parents who had medical training and had already begun performing CPR on the player."

The scrimmage was with players from Coatesville Area Senior High School, Hanna said.

An autopsy was scheduled to be performed Friday.

"We are committed to getting answers for Ivan's family, friends, and community. His parents have been notified and our hearts go out to them," Chester County Coroner Christina VandePol said in a statement.

"There was no sign of external injury in this tragic unexpected death. We will be looking closely at possible cardiac causes, given what is known about sudden death in young athletes, but it's too early to draw any conclusions," VandePol said.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement: "Please join us in praying for the happy repose of Ivan's soul and that God may hold and comfort his family at this time of intense sorrow and grief. We recognize that this moment is a difficult one for our school community. Please be assured that we, along with all of the administrators, teachers and staff, will do everything possible to provide assistance to our students."

Hanna, the Coatesville superintendent, added: "This is such a tragic loss, and I was so touched by the response of coaches from both teams and school administrators who gathered at the hospital to offer support to the family of this student. Our own school counselors are reaching out to our Coatesville football players and will be available to talk with them about this."

Hanna said all off-season football activities were canceled Wednesday.

The National Weather Service reported that the temperature at the Chester County G.O. Carlson Airport near Coatesville was 88 degrees around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Stephen Stache, the chief of nonoperative sports medicine at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, said heat may have played a role in Hicks's death, but that it is likely a case of sudden cardiac death.

Sudden cardiac events — when the heart abruptly stops beating — are exercise-induced, but caused by undiagnosed underlying conditions, such as abnormal heart rhythms, Stache said.

Sweltering heat can lead to dehydration, which could exacerbate underlying heart problems, he said.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be concerns among endurance athletes, who have been exerting themselves over a long period of time, or in sports like football, where players wear heavy equipment that makes it hard to regulate body temperature. High school sports teams should make sure they spend adequate time helping players' bodies adjust to strenuous activity in heat by practicing first without padding and building up to heavier gear, Stache said.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association requires this heat acclimation process, and parents should talk to coaches and school administrators if they have concerns about their child's team.

Cool towels and ice on the sidelines can help players who need a break. Easy access to First Aid and AED (automated external defibrillator) equipment, adequate training of coaches and an emergency plan are all critical to responding to an incident, Stache said.

One of the best ways families can protect their student athletes, he said, is to make sure they are screened for underlying medical conditions, such as a heart murmur that could increase their risk. The screening required by PIAA involves listening to athletes' hearts and gathering a family medical history of any cardiac problems at a young age. Still, abnormalities are missed even at the elite level.

In June, a Danish soccer player collapsed with a sudden cardiac attack during a championship match and was revived on live television by medics standing by with an AED, a device designed to restart the heart by shocking it.