Student death causes athletic changes


Asher Montgomery

Hillsborough football players Gerald Tribling, Zach Menard and Fredy Mora hydrate during practice due to the risk of heat stroke and dehydration.

 A 14 year-old freshman at Middleton was preparing to start his first season of high school football, but under an hour into conditioning on June 11, the young man collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. Hezekiah Walters died that day, devastating those he knew and leading to fresh attention on athletic requirements in the district.

“This student was an amazing young man who was loved by his friends, teachers and staff at school,” said Tanya Arja, spokeswoman for Hillsborough Schools. “He was taking part in conditioning and weight lifting with other athletes and coaches when he collapsed. The coaches immediately called 911 and he was rushed to the hospital.”

After the incident, Hillsborough Schools addressed some of the rules they have in place, immediately halting all athletic practices throughout the district. It was discovered that some schools allowed athletes to play even without the correct paperwork completed. At Middleton, both the head coach and athletic director were reassigned.

“That’s one of the reasons why we immediately stopped all conditioning until we could confirm that all student-athletes had submitted their appropriate paperwork,” Superintendent Jeff Eakins said. “Every school has confirmed that it was checked and that process has been completed.”

Walters’ family is asking to see changes in county sports. They want full time athletic trainers at each school — the school board is actually scheduled to discuss a proposal on that this week.

“We are proposing putting full time athletic trainers at each high school,” Arja said. “We are still looking at other things and possibilities.” They would want the trainer to go to all sporting events, including summer practices. The plan also continues to provide safety instructions, and require athletic programs to have cold water immersion tubs.

With time winding down until kickoff, the Walters family and their attorneys continue to try and create a safer environment for school sports. “We intend to work with the school board until we have a satisfactory situation,” their attorney, Steve Yerrid, said at a recent media availability.