JOHN DOHERTY: Current events recall sad anniversary

2013-02-25T19:00:00Z JOHN DOHERTY: Current events recall sad anniversaryJohn Doherty Times Columnist
February 25, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

Munster High School's boys basketball team completed its second undefeated season in school history on Friday. The first time it happened was two years ago, and just a week later, 120 miles from here, Fennville (Mich.) High School also completed an undefeated regular season – a little more famously than Munster did.

In hindsight, the residents of Fennville probably view that season, and the events surrounding its conclusion, as infamous.

As the game concluded, it certainly didn't seem it would be that way. Fennville's best player, Wes Leonard had just hit the game-winning shot. His teammates hoisted him on their shoulders, carried him around the court, and put him down. Whereupon, he promptly dropped dead.

Disbelief was the initial reaction of those in attendance. In fact, bystanders first thought Leonard had overheated and treated him for that. Eventually, though, medical professionals who happened to be in the crowd – Fennville did not have an athletic trainer -- determined Leonard didn't have a pulse and called for an AED. The school's principal retrieved one from a nearby office but when the Good Samaritans working on Leonard attempted to turn the device on, nothing happened.

The battery was dead and so, ultimately, was Leonard.

I recall these events, as I did a year ago, because the basketball-related deaths continue.

And the public's reaction, for the most part, in stark contrast to any football-related death, is a shrug of the shoulders.

In the last two weeks, there have been at least three basketball-related deaths among high school and college males nationwide, one of them in Indiana. Did you even know about it? Had it been football-related, you would have heard most assuredly.

Bowman Academy graduate Xavier Walton was a sophomore lineman on the Anderson University football team. On Feb. 14, he collapsed and died while playing in an intramural basketball game.

Three days later a Western New England University student suffered the same fate.

Then a week ago, a high school basketball player died during a varsity game in North Carolina.

Tragedies all. However, even though it has the highest death rate of any sport at the college level, there is not a word about banning the game.

Nor should there be.

Like football, basketball could be made safer. Not by rules changes or better equipment but by better cardiac screening, universal coverage by athletic trainers, and mandatory CPR training for all coaches.

While the typical cardiac arrest in this country is fatal 95 percent of the time, when conditions are ideal – immediate initiation of CPR followed by defibrillation within five minutes, the survival rate increases to as high as 75 percent.

Does your child's school or youth sports program have all the components necessary to optimize survivability following cardiac arrest?

If any of those components are missing, ask why. If enough parents do that, school and youth sports administrators will stop making excuses and take the proper action instead.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at

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