Scores of Rockwall-Heath footballers have been hospitalized and the head coach has been placed on administrative leave following a grueling training session on Friday. Social media raised heads and accusations of being “soft” were tossed around with indifference.
But health professionals defended the hospitalized players and urged the public not to jump to judgment when the athletes are dealing with an illness that can be extremely dangerous.
A dozen students were hospitalizedtold a Heath parent The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday, after a workout that included nearly 400 push-ups in a 60-minute window. Two other parents confirmed Tuesday’s training and multiple hospitalizations.
A Tuesday letter from Rockwall-Heath director Todd Bradford said several students “required medical attention and, in some cases, hospitalization,” and so on Head Coach John Harrell was placed on administrative leave. A third party, Adams, Lynch & Loftin, PC, is investigating, the county said Wednesday.
Rhabdomyolysis, a stress-induced muscle disorder (pronounced rab-dow-mai-AHL-uh-suhs) that has been diagnosed in several gamers, according to parents, leads to acute kidney injury in 13-67% of sufferers.
According to the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, it accounts for 5-10% of all cases of acute kidney failure in the United States.
“In many cases, it can kill you without any kind of hospital intervention,” said Drew Hill, performance manager at Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning in Wichita Falls. “It starts to shut down your kidneys over time and your blood becomes septic. It can be extremely dangerous if left untreated.”
Some of Heath’s parents and players defended Harrell and the program, but medical experts said the biggest risk is overexertion for athletes after a long layoff, especially if they’re not used to rigorous, higher-level activity.
“Many cases of rhabdo in athletes come after a long break, like the Christmas break. Then kids aren’t ready for it,” said Andrew Pichardo, a strength and conditioning coach at the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida.
RISD spokeswoman Renae Murphy said the football team will engage in recovery training for the remainder of the week with a light warm-up and light stretching that is not strenuous.
Pichardo, who used to work at Tyler Legacy, one of Rockwall-Heath’s county rivals, said it’s often difficult for athletes to speak out, even when they feel their health may be compromised.
“If a kid speaks up, they’ll be roasted or soft-blacklisted by the coaches and the other kids,” he said. “I don’t blame the kids for not speaking up because if they do, they’re likely to be shouted at and shouted at and not put on the team they want to be on, or kicked out.”
The Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association says the incidence of injuries and deaths related to exercise-related heat illness, exercise-related rhabdomyolysis, and cardiorespiratory failure in collegiate athletes has increased significantly in recent years.
The data suggests that injuries and fatalities are more likely to occur during periods when athletes are transitioning from relative inactivity to regular exercise.
It states that periods of conditioning should be introduced gradually and gradually to promote adequate exercise acclimation and minimize the risk of adverse health effects.
“The biggest thing is to have a good progression and know that they’ve had two weeks where they’re probably not doing much but just slowly getting back into things,” Pichardo said. “I think you can get them back to activity more intelligently. You can push kids with safe boundaries and still get better.”
Rockwall County EMS clinical director Scott Bell said the department doesn’t get many calls related to “rhabdo.”
“Especially for that age group,” Bell said, adding that most of the calls about “Rhabdo” came from older people.
“Rhabdo can be very serious,” said Kathy Dieringer, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. “Rhabdo happens for a variety of reasons. It’s basically overexertion and the muscles are usually worked repeatedly. Because of this repetitive exercise, the muscle begins to break down and introduces toxins into the bloodstream. It can cause kidney and liver problems.
“It can be fatal if left untreated and undiagnosed.”
Associates Talia Richman and Hojun Choi contributed to this report.
On twitter: @DMNGregGriddle