Editorial: Hillsborough School District reacts responsibly following player’s death

A high school freshman’s death after collapsing during a football workout requires a review at every school. Safety must come first.
Published June 14

The Hillsborough County School District took the appropriate step by halting all summer workouts and athletic activities after a 14-year-old incoming freshman died this week after collapsing during drills with the football team at Middleton High School in Tampa. Safety of student-athletes must be the top priority.

Hezekiah B. Walters collapsed Tuesday afternoon, after a half-hour workout on the football field that authorities said included weightlifting and wind sprints with water breaks. The coaches called 911, and paramedics took Walters to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where the teen was later pronounced dead. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office is investigating the cause of death.

The district halted all workouts pending a staff review of safety procedures at every school. Coaches were ordered to review safety procedures for taking part in athletic activities. School staff must check the records of every student to ensure their eligibility to participate in offseason athletics. And school principals must inform district administrators that these steps have been completed before summer activities may resume.

This is a responsible response to a tragedy that has left a family heartbroken. While high school football practice doesn’t officially start in Florida until July 29, football players and other student-athletes spend their summers working out. These unofficial conditioning sessions take place on school campuses and must be supervised by an adult. It only makes sense to revisit these off-season drills. Heat-related deaths are a growing concern on campuses across the country, and the county should reaffirm that coaches and other supervising adults are properly trained on proper workouts and on identifying the symptoms of heat-related physical issues.

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