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 fall.
They sprinted 12 times in 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 football fields across the country, right up until Gilpin, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound offensive lineman collapsed on the turf just 15 minutes after a teammate went down.
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 collapse from heat stroke in the 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 said.
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 day.
David Englert said “Coach Stinson made the team run sprints until someone quit,” Gilpin’s mother, Michele Crockett said in court filings.
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.