Orville Higgins | Dominic's death up close
In a bizarre way, I am telling myself that it is I who jinxed the now-deceased St George's footballer. I had told everybody at KLAS that I had no real interest in seeing any first-round games in the Manning or daCosta Cup. With few exceptions, first-round schoolboy games no longer excite me. The scores can sometimes be lopsided, (we have seen scores like 13-0 and 10-0 this season already), and unless two 'big' schools are involved, quite often there is a lack of atmosphere. I usually get hooked from the start of the second round when the real football begins.
So I can't quite explain why, on Tuesday afternoon, I was so keen on watching the St George's vs Excelsior game. I came off air at 3:15 p.m., and for no apparent reason, decided to drive up to the Stadium East field. The drive took me less time than I had anticipated. I was parked inside the venue and ordered a bun and cheese well before the 3:30 p.m. kick-off. I took up position in front of the main stand. I was in lively conversation with basketball president Dr Mark Bromfield and former national goalkeeper Clive 'Spider' Wedderburn, when a few minutes after kick-off, the game was stopped and everybody gathered around Dominic James.
SIGNS OF PANIC
I didn't think much of it. A player going down and players and officials gathering around him is par for the course. What first got me thinking that this was different was when St George's coach Neville 'Bertis' Bell started to show real signs of panic. I heard him clearly asking if a vehicle could be driven into the playing area itself so the player could be carried away.
Looking at the youngster, I was concerned that he wasn't moving at all. I kept asking, where was the stretcher? After what seemed like forever, but was maybe five or six minutes, they proceeded to lift him up. There were five or six people carrying him off, and there was one lady who was making a deliberate effort to keep his head up.
That set off alarm bells. For somebody to be holding his head up in a very delicate way meant something dangerous. They walked with him directly beside where I stood and I couldn't detect any movement, no sign at all that he was even trying to help himself. I feared the worst then. The referee then blew the game on and I said clearly to both Spider and Dr Bromfield that if I was his teammate, I would be in no condition to continue this game. I didn't know why I even said that.
Players coming off the field to get medical attention is fairly routine in football, but a sixth sense told me this was completely different. The St George's players were clearly rattled. They conceded two penalties in quick time (one which was saved), and they could have been 3-1 down within 35 minutes or so, rather than the 2-1 scoreline when the game was called off. I then said to Dr Bromfield and Spider, "What if the youth died? Would they continue the game?" I can't even remember what their answer was.
We had all forgotten about the incident, when all of a sudden, I saw Bertis reacting strangely on the sidelines. He didn't quite know what to do with himself. He was holding his head, he was crying, he was looking up to the heavens. At one point he was even running down the sidelines. I knew the reason even before I heard Bertis saying, "Him dead! The yute dead!" And then I witnessed what I have never witnessed before. The St George's players almost in unison falling to the ground and weeping.
The Excelsior coaches, Shavar Thomas and Xavier Gilbert, went over right away to comfort Bertis and his boys, and the rest of the Excelsior team followed. The referee's whistle then blasted. I wasn't even sure whether it was the half-time whistle or the referee stopping the game.
Could all this have been avoided? I don't know. I didn't like the fact that there didn't seem to be a definite plan as to what would happen in an emergency like this. Surely, there should have been a designated car for such purposes, even if the teams couldn't afford the luxury of an ambulance. Having the youngster's father taking him away is unacceptable. He shouldn't have to be put through that. God alone knows how he must have felt when he came to watch a simple Manning Cup game and ended up driving away a dying (or dead) son. This one shook me up. I probably should have waited till second round and not gone at all!
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.