WESLEY CHAPEL — When Ethan Perkins arrived at the Wesley Chapel High fields for summer training in June, he had just one thing on his mind.
He wanted to play baseball.
The rising freshman eyed a spot on the school team — maybe left field, perhaps first base — and every moment of practice would only help.
Coach Gary Moye had a different plan.
“Before I ever put my kids out on the fields, even just for conditioning, I always make sure they get their [sports] physical,” Moye said.
The 14-year-old didn’t have his completed. His option: Stand and watch until he was cleared by a doctor.
His mom, Karen Perkins, is a nurse. She had thought a routine doctor’s appointment would have sufficed. But at the coach’s insistence, she agreed to the extra step.
If she had any hesitation, it dissipated days later when she learned that a boy her son’s age had died during summer football training at Middleton High School, just a short drive south on the interstate.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God,’" she recalled. “I always cry when I hear about these things.”
And when Dr. Jeanne McGregor phoned with Ethan’s report, his mom was even more thankful.
The doctor had discovered a heartbeat irregularity that, left untreated, could have ended tragically.
“It is not common at all to find something significant like this in these exams,” McGregor said. “Most of the kids are cleared. … This just goes to show why it’s important to have these school physicals.”
For Ethan, the news meant extra tests with lots of machines. He went along, yearning to get back on the base paths he had roamed for nearly a decade. But he thought the attention was “dumb.”
“I didn’t feel any pain or anything,” he said, snacking between classes and practice on a recent afternoon. “It feels fine. … I don’t feel tired or anything.”
The specialists determined that Ethan could play if he followed specific rules.
No caffeine. (He likes coffee drinks.) Extra hydration. (He repeats it like a mantra, especially on practice days.)
Pass out one time, and it’s straight back to the labs for more tests.
“I know it’s not going to happen,” Ethan said confidently.
His mom still worries, though she has faith in the doctors who say her son faces no immediate risk. Most importantly, she said, knowing Ethan’s condition and managing it is so much better than having something undetected strike.
She’s been praising the coach, school district, doctor and everyone else who required the school sports physical and wouldn’t accept anything less. She sent letters to the superintendent and school board, talked up the lesson learned to anyone who would listen.
“What would happen if we didn’t know?” Perkins asked. “What would happen to him? My child is the most valuable thing to me.”
Moye said he was humbled by the family’s attention to what he viewed as a routine decision. He didn’t expect the plaudits — or the hugs.
“I know she was pretty reluctant at first,” Moye said. “I was very happy to hear I made a difference. It’s very important to make sure the kids are safe.”
District athletics director Matt Wicks noted that the state high school athletics association requires the physicals. But even if it didn’t, Wicks said, he would recommend them to every teen on a team.
And he regularly reminds all Pasco coaches to make the point.
“It’s not going to prevent an accident. But it at least lets us know what we have on our hands,” Wicks said, adding that the checkup might catch something early. “It’s for (students’) own good.”
He doesn’t have to tell Ethan Perkins twice.
Ethan admits being “glad” he knows about his heartbeat so he can take steps to keep it in check. Because he still wants the same thing that brought him to campus in June.
To play ball.
“My dad got me into the sport,” the Rays fan said, “and I’ve liked it since then.”