Teen's death sparks call for schoolboy football season pushback
Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter
Sports medicine specialist and coaches want footballers examined before entering competition
The sudden death of an 18-year-old, who was trying out with the hope of making Jamaica College's (JC) Manning Cup squad during a recent training camp in St Elizabeth, has prompted one sports medicine specialist to call for the rescheduling of the schoolboy football season to facilitate pre-participation testing of all athletes.
Roshane Ricketts collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack after a road run at St Elizabeth Technical High School during pre-season training.
Dr Paul Wright, former Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission doping control officer, told The Sunday Gleaner that the onus is on schools to ensure that members of their teams are fit and ready to participate in strenuous competition.
"The team must have a responsibility for the health of the people who they invite to play with them," Wright declared. "If somebody comes to them and says they would like to play with them and they say 'OK', they now have a responsibility for that person's health. Parents don't send children to school to dead. They send them to school for education, of which sports is a part."
But Neville Bell, coach of the St George's College Manning Cup team, believes that though some of the responsibility lies with the team, ultimately, it is the parents who should be tasked with ensuring that their children are in good health.
"I think really the onus is on the parents to ensure their kids' safety, and if the schools and the clubs can help, then they should," Bell said.
"I think that all the coaches and all the schools have done their best over the years to make sure the kids are okay. I think that it is also hugely important that the parents back-up what is going on and give their children a test every year, especially if they are involved in strenuous activity."
Wright countered, saying: "It has to be driven home to schools that have teams that are going to play games that the students are their responsibility."
He added: "Those (athletes) that have problems is a very small number, like one to three per cent, but we can't afford to miss that one to three per cent, and they can be picked up on history and a pre-participation exam."
The process, according to Wright, would include an initial questionnaire which would seek answers to queries such as whether the athletes have ever passed out while exercising; have they ever been short of breath, even after a small run; and whether recovery time is long.
"And then the next most important part of it is the family history; how many people in the family died of heart issues before they were 50; how many people in the family have diabetes; how many people in the family suffer from hypertension; how many people in the family have been hospitalised and for how long, and for what," Wright continued.
The process only becomes costly when actual diagnosis has to be done based on red flags picked up on the questionnaire. But the sports physician suggests that the cost of $3,000 at the Heart Foundation can be offset if schools enlist the help of old boys.
"Ninety per cent of the schools that have prominent old boys' associations have past students who are doctors, and it is an easy thing to do. You just have to do it. This 'don't care' attitude cannot work anymore," Wright declared.
ASSISTANCE IS ESSENTIAL
Donovan Duckie, coach at Manchester High, takes it even further, as he believes the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), as organisers of the football competitions, should provide some assistance to this effect.
"Each school should shoulder the responsibility of doing this (examination of athletes), but ISSA could also help out the schools because the competition is run by ISSA, and in terms of revenue generated from the competition, ISSA is responsible for a large part of that.
"ISSA has to play a role. But I think all schools have to implement this, and it shouldn't be an option. It has to be mandatory for every school to do this every year before a competition," Duckie reasoned.
And with this view in mind, Lenworth Hyde Sr, Kingston College's Manning Cup coach, said he was not opposed to a date push-back because the "health of the players comes first".
Said Hyde: "We just have to make sure that the players are OK physically before we put them through any rigorous training. Some of them, it is the first they are coming to this level and this type of training."
Efforts to get a comment from ISSA's president, Dr Walton Small; and the competitions' chairman, George Forbes, proved unsuccessful. However, a source within the organisation disclosed that a meeting is scheduled where two key issues to be discussed are the commencement of reviewing players' family health history and the prospect of drug testing.