Officials: Physical exam records incomplete for football player who died after conditioning drills

Required paperwork, including proof of a physical examination, was not properly documented by the coaches of a football player who died after collapsing during conditioning training at Middleton High School, according to the Hillsborough County School District.

District officials announced protocol changes Monday following the death of 14-year-old Hezekiah Walters.

Walters was participating in exercises June 11, the fifth day of conditioning drills, when he collapsed. Eakins said Hezekiah was still breathing at the time, so coaches did not use the defibrillator.

Tampa Fire Rescue arrived minutes later to find Hezekiah in cardiac arrest. Firefighters twice used a defibrillator on the teen and rushed him to St. Joseph's Hospital, where doctors noted the teen had a temperature of 102 degrees and no heartbeat. He died at the hospital.

The superintendent said coaches told district investigators they were providing more water breaks than required by the state and had instructed the athletes to walk, not run, during exercises.

The district, however, uncovered several issues with athlete record-keeping at Middleton. Eakins said some of Hezekiah's records were not submitted or completed, including his physical examination.

There was also no documentation showing the teenager watched a required video about heat-related issues.

During a news conference, Superintendent Jeff Eakins said two of the people involved in keeping those records will no longer hold their current positions.

The assistant principal, who oversees athletics, is being demoted. The head football coach will be reassigned to another school and will no longer coach.

"The death of a student during sports conditioning, practice or games is a rare occurrence, but we are doing everything we can to prevent something like this in the future," Eakins said, reading from a prepared statement. "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... As we have stated repeatedly, the health and safety of our students is our top priority. We are heartbroken by this tragic death."

Hezekiah's family has not commented about the situation, but in a letter to the district about possible legal action, the Water's family attorneys wrote, "The heat index was extremely high warranting special considerations and diligent watching by trained adult supervisors. We understand no certified athletic trainer was present. After running sprints and other drills, Hezekiah became overheated and collapsed. We are uncertain of the response and what timely attempts were made to assist him."

Eakins said athletic trainers were not required to be present during conditioning drills and several high schools don't even have one on staff. The superintendent is recommending the school board require a trainer at every school during all football activities, including conditioning.