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He wanted to be a winner

Published Oct. 12, 2005

At 5 foot 3 and 130 pounds, Chip Stoskopf looked small even on a junior varsity football team.

But the Citrus High School freshman brought to football the same determination he brought to life.

A dyslexic, he battled to overcome his learning disabilities. And on the gridiron, he poured his heart into football, hoping to prove to classmates that he was a winner.

Thursday, while playing a sport he loved, his heart gave out.

Stoskopf, 14, of Floral City died Friday at Munroe Regional Hospital in Ocala, less than 24 hours after collapsing while playing in a junior varsity football game at Lake Weir High School. Hospital officials said the exact cause of his death was not known, but that cardiac arrest was apparent.

"He was dyslexic, and he wanted to show people that he could be as good as anybody else," said Tony Sparacino, a six-year friend of Stoskopf's mother, Connie Denney. "He always wanted to play football. He's always liked the game and wanted to excel at it, like he wanted to excel at everything."

Stoskopf's death marks the third time in 16 months that a member of the Citrus junior varsity football team has died.

Stoskopf was an active youth, participating in soccer, baseball, golf and archery, in addition to training Boston terriers as show dogs, all without any sign of physical ailment, according to Betsy StoutMorrill, Stoskopf's tutor of many years, who acted as a spokesperson Saturday for Denney.

"Chip was very into the sports thing because he was very athletic, and he was a very personable and outgoing person," StoutMorrill said. "Sometimes when he needed to come to me for tutoring, it was hard for him to choose between sports and his schoolwork."

It was Stoskopf's tenacity that earned him the respect of his football teammates.

"He was a durable little critter," junior varsity football coach Ken Berry said of Stoskopf, a reserve wide receiver. "At the beginning of the year, some of the kids kind of picked him out as one they could get rid of, but every time they hit him he bounced right back up."

Stoskopf played in at least one other game this season for the Hurricanes' 4-0 junior varsity team, Berry said.

"He'd practice with us and everything," he said. "This is something freaky."

Stoskopf's death has left the Citrus High community wondering what could cause a seemingly healthy 14-year-old boy's heart to stop.

Game film shows that Stoskopf came to the line of scrimmage as a split end for his first play of the game late in the fourth quarter, but collapsed just before the ball was snapped. He lay motionless while the play went away from him. Referees approached him as soon as the whistle blew.

Stoskopf was taken by ambulance to Munroe Regional Hospital, where a cardiac arrest team worked through the night to stabilize him. He died Friday at 4:10 p.m., a hospital spokesman said.

Students left school Friday afternoon knowing only that Stoskopf was in critical condition, but teary-eyed cheerleaders greeted fans Friday night at the Citrus High varsity home game against Clermont as news of his death spread. A moment of silence was observed before kickoff.

The Florida High School Activities Association requires all athletes to pass a physical examination to participate in sports. Berry said Stoskopf had received clearance to play.

The state medical examiner's office will perform an autopsy to more accurately determine the cause of death, StoutMorrill said.

A viewing will be at Davis Funeral Home in Inverness from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday. A memorial service for students and friends is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Citrus High. In lieu of flowers, Denney asks that donations be made to the Chip Stoskopf Memorial Fund established at Citrus High. Money will be used to purchase materials for learning disabled and dyslexic students in Citrus County.

In addition to Stoskopf, two other members of the Citrus junior varsity football team have died in the last 16 months.

In June 1991, Paul Schrencengost drowned in a boating incident. In September 1991, sophomore Mark Jenkins committed suicide, leaving a note that said he was despondent over not being able to participate in sports because of a broken arm sustained in a junior varsity game.

Counselors from the Citrus County school district's crisis intervention unit were at Citrus High on Friday and will be again early this week, Berry said.