LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Football players know them as "gassers"
- sprints up and down the field to build stamina.
Sophomore Max Gilpin and his Pleasure Ridge Park teammates spent
the tail end of a three-hour practice on a sweltering August day in
Louisville running the drill that is a coaching staple across the
country, hoping to impress enough to earn varsity playing time that
They sprinted 12 times in what felt like 94-degree heat,
sometimes with helmets and pads, as the coaches pushed them to go
harder and harder. It was a drill like those on many high school
football fields, until Gilpin, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound offensive
lineman, collapsed to the turf just 15 minutes after a teammate
Three days later, the 15-year-old Gilpin was dead from heat
stroke, with authorities saying his body temperature was 107
degrees when he reached the hospital. Five months later, his
first-year head coach David Jason Stinson is facing a reckless
homicide charge, with a prosecutor saying the coach should have
realized a player could get heat stroke in such broiling weather.
Harold Jarrard, whose grandson played on the offensive line, was
there Aug. 20 and said coaches were shouting at the players,
encouraging them to pick it up as practice wound down.
"It was just a normal day of practice," he said. "They always
run gassers at the end. It's a daily activity. Nothing was
different that day. I never heard anything out of the ordinary.
"You hear them being threatened every day, stuff like 'If you
don't straighten up, you're out of here.' It was just regular," he
Interviews with witnesses and a review of filings in a civil
lawsuit brought by Gilpin's parents against the coaching staff,
including depositions, Stinson's handwritten notes and weather logs
filed with the school, shed some light on what happened that day.
For Brian Bale, who was watching his daughter play soccer on an
adjacent field during most of football practice, the way coaches
were yelling at players was "appalling," he said in an e-mail to
the school district two days later. Bale declined an interview
request from The Associated Press on Friday.
But he wrote in the e-mail: "Those coaches thought that they
were training young teenagers for the Navy SEALS team instead of a
football team. I never once in the time I was there saw anyone
offered a water break. I did, however, hear the coach say numerous
times that all he needed was one person to say that they quit the
team and all of the suffering and running and heat would be over."
That's exactly what Kim Englert's son, David, did - quit that
David Englert said "Coach Stinson made the team run sprints
until someone quit," Gilpin's mother, Michele Crockett, said in
Heat exposure deaths happen occasionally in football from the
sandlot to the pros, the most famous example being Minnesota
Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer in 2001. Lawsuits have
been filed in many of those cases, but it doesn't appear that a
coach has ever been criminally charged.
Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel declined to say why he
chose this case for a grand jury. Stinson, a technical teacher at
the school who has been reassigned pending the outcome of the case,
is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.
His attorney, Alex Dathorne, did not return calls from The
Associated Press on Friday.
Jarrard said Gilpin's death weighed heavily on Stinson
throughout the season as the Panthers finished with a 4-4 record.
The coach brought Gilpin's jersey to each game in tribute, though
he made no changes to his team's practice routine, according to his
"He's a real gentleman, he's got kids of his own," Jarrard
said. "He lost a boy that day, too."
Stinson is no stranger to hot August football training camps.
The former high school and college offensive lineman played briefly
with the NFL's New York Giants. At the 1,900-student Pleasure Ridge
Park, he spent three years as the offensive line coach before
taking over the team in January 2008.
Stinson's weather log showed a heat index of 94 degrees as
practice started at 2:30 p.m. The index is a measure of how hot it
feels based on temperature and humidity.
A small group watched the workout, including Gilpin's father,
Jeff Gilpin, who sat next to Jarrard for most of the final two
hours of the session, according to Jarrard and court documents.
Practice began with players congregating in the locker room
before moving on to weights and film review. They took the field at
3:45 p.m. The team went through a variety of stretches and drills
for about an hour before being given three water breaks in a
30-minute period, the log shows.
Then at 5:30 p.m. came the gassers.
About a half-hour later, the first player collapsed, and Stinson
sent him to a nearby tree for shade and treated him with water and
ice packs, according to the coach's notes.
Gilpin collapsed 15 minutes later, at about 6:10 p.m., as the
rest of the team headed for the shade tree for an end-of-practice
Assistant coach Steve Deacon called 911 when Gilpin stopped
responding to ice packs and water. In the call, made at 6:17 p.m.,
Deacon describes Gilpin as pale, with a "big rapid pulse."
"Yes ... he's breathing ... yeah ... he's going ... kinda going
in and out on us though," Deacon said.
Christina Spiva, the mother of another Pleasure Ridge Park
student, called Gilpin's mother a few minutes later.
"You need to get here quick. He's been down here for a while
and I don't think they are moving fast enough," Spiva said.
Crockett arrived at the school at 6:27 p.m. and found her son
limp, with bloodshot eyes staring straight ahead, an ice pack
behind his neck and a hose spilling water over the pack. Two people
were pumping his legs to "keep Max's circulation going," Crockett
said. Crockett did not return calls to The Associated Press and a
phone number found for Jeff Gilpin was not his.
Paramedics arrived about the same time and made an unsuccessful
attempt at putting a tube down Max Gilpin's throat before rushing
him to the hospital, where he remained for three days before he
died of septic shock, multiple organ failure and heat stroke. His
teammate who collapsed was released several days later.
Gilpin was one of six heat-related deaths in high school and
college athletics in 2008, said Dr. Frederick Mueller with the
National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research at the University
of North Carolina.
More than 120 athletes have died under similar circumstances