Athletes at Risk?: How 2 states are responding to high school athlete deaths

 By: Chris Renkel and Stephanie Kuzydym, WKRC               Tuesday, February 11th 2020


ROANE COUNTY, WV. (WKRC/WCHS) – On Sept. 13, 2019, Alex Miller collapsed during a football game in West Virginia.

On that same day, Peter Webb collapsed during a football game in Oklahoma.

Both died.

They were two of at least seven boys in 2019 to die playing football.

The difference?

One state’s legislators seemed to move on.

The other was left asking what more they could have done.

Representative Rick Atkinson is from the same county in West Virginia as Alex Miller.

“I’ll be totally honest with you, “ Atkinson said on the phone from his office in Charleston, WVa., “I’m not one that’s looking for publicity.”

Atkinson saw Miller’s death as an example of a problem that needed a solution.

“It was just time,” Atkinson said.

West Virginia House Bill 4105 requires that public schools have a full-time athletic trainer on staff.

It was brought forward by Atkinson four months to the day of Alex’s death.

Only 11 percent of West Virginia high schools have a full-time athletic trainer.

In Oklahoma, it’s just 13 percent, according to the Korey Stringer Institute, which tracks athletic training services in all of the nation’s high schools.

The first obstacle is money.

“We need to try to get some flexibility built into (the bill) so the counties can afford this type of service for students,” Atkinson said. “It’s hard to justify that position in smaller schools in rural areas.”

Ohio High School Athletic Association executive director Jerry Snodgrass talks almost weekly with legislators. While he doesn’t know this particular bill, Snodgrass is worried that schools voicing their concerns over money would be taken as them not caring.

“On the surface, it sounds great,” he said. “It’s an unfunded mandate.”

Those two words keep athletic trainers from being a requirement in athletic departments in Ohio and across America.

You can’t require personnel in a school district without the funds to support them.

“It’s also real that schools have to come up with the money to do that,” Snodgrass said.

Atkinson said concern about unfunded mandates are why he introduced the bill now.

“Right now we need to bring the awareness to the situation,” Atkinson said,” and try to get that into the budgets and try to figure out ways to get that into our school budgets in the years ahead.”

So where does that leave us?

With conversations like this between a journalist and a coach.

“Well, Coach, obviously you and I have talked a lot through the years,” a WCHS photographer said. “Certainly this is not what we want to be talking about, but the loss of a great young man this weekend, and uh, tell us a bit about Alex.”

Paul Burdette nodded.

“Alex Miller was a great young man,” Burdette said. “If a man could ever picture what he’d want his son to be like, I think Alex would be the perfect picture of that.”

Since 1931, 702 high school football players have died as a result of football.

That means nearly eight players die as a result of playing high school football every year.


One Pill Can Kill: Playing Through Pain Can Lead to Deadly Addiction For Athletes

By: Chris Renkel & Stephanie Kuzydym, WKRC Local 12                  Tuesday, February 4th 2020


BEAUMONT, Texas (WKRC/KFDM) – Blain Padgett was a Texas high school football star in his small town northeast of Houston.

He was known as "B," as in B that guy.

B the one that gets in early.

B the guy that stays late.

B the person who does things right.

He gave that pep talk to his former high school team when he came home to lift weights, just days after he was medically cleared from surgery. He was a junior in college then. Blain didn’t tell his college coaches, his teammates or his family the pain he still felt.

He definitely wasn’t telling them how he was managing it with pain pills.

“He probably pushed himself a little too much at times,” Mical Padgett, Blain’s father and a former University of Texas linebacker, said. “He was released and still had pain and wanted to perform at his highest level and he took some extreme measures.”

An athletic trainer is on a sidelines to minimize risk and assess injuries that do happen to athletes. They’re also there to help athletes manage the pain after serious injuries.

Tom Lane is an Ohio high school athletic trainer who has been on the sidelines for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s seen plenty of kids post-surgery with all kinds of prescriptions.

“I don’t know how much they’re going to get,” Lane said.

So after the procedure, Lane starts a conversation with the athlete and the parent to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Sometimes parents and the athletes don’t talk to each other every night,” Lane said. “So you try to make sure you cover your bases.”

He doesn’t shy away from the talk, especially athletes who may have family members prescribed opiates after surgical procedures.

“You have to be educational with them to let them know that there are a lot of things that can go wrong with it,” Lane said. “You have to make sure you’re still on top of it to make sure that pain is there for a reason and what to do after their prescription runs out or what happens when they have leftover medicine and they don’t know what to do with it.

“Do they keep it? Do they take it home? Do they take it to the hospital? What’s the way to dispose of it?”

Siobhan Fagan is the immediate past president of the Ohio Athletic Trainers Association. She said athletic trainers can recognize if athletes are addicted to opiates after surgery.

“Especially in the secondary schools,” she said, “they walk through the doors, they start talking to us and we start to hear things.”

Lane has spoken across the country regarding how an athlete or their family can dispose of excess medication after surgery so it never falls into the wrong hands.

“No. 1 thing I always tell them is that they can take them to a local emergency room,” Lane said of excess pills. “There’s a dropbox there that the pharmacy goes and checks and they can destroy that.

“The second thing they can do is they can go ahead and do what’s called a well-check visit. So they can go ahead and call the police up and the deputy sheriff will come out to their house and then you can give it to the police and say, ‘I don’t want this anymore.’ They’ll go ahead and take it and they’ll destroy that as well.”

Even though opiates aren’t being prescribed as much, Ohio averaged 63.5 prescriptions for every 100 persons. That’s a 5% higher rate than the national prescribing rate in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control an Prevention.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found in 2019 that roughly 21% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids misused them.

Blain took a pill that wasn’t prescribed to him a week after he gave that pep talk to his former high school team. That pill killed him. He was 21.

Blain’s dad agrees that’s another reason parents and school districts should want their athletes to be hearing from as young as possible about post-surgery drugs.

Mical and his wife, Wyndi, have worked with Blain’s high school student council to launch a campaign called “One Pill Can Kill.”

“He had a lot of integrity and a lot of drive,” Mical said. “But he made a mistake and he’s a good example of someone who can do everything right until that one day you do something wrong and it can catch up with you. He paid that ultimate price.”

March will mark two years since Blain’s death.