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  1. Hillsborough

Hillsborough schools halt summer workouts after teen football player collapses, dies

Hezekiah B. Walters, 14, was a member of Men of Vision, a local non-profit for teens. He collapsed while participating in football conditioning drills at Middleton High School in Tampa on Wednesday and later died. His death is now being investigated. [Courtesy of Walters family]
Published Jun. 12

TAMPA — A 14-year-old incoming freshman at Middleton High School collapsed and died while taking part in conditioning drills with the football team on Tuesday, police said.

Hours after the death of Hezekiah B. Walters, the Hillsborough County School District said it was halting all summer workouts and athletic activities until staff complete a full review of safety procedures at every school.

Coaches were ordered to review all safety procedures for taking part in athletic activities; school staff must check the records of every student to make sure they're eligible to take part in offseason athletics; and every school's principal must inform the district that these steps have been completed.

Then the district will allow schools to resume summer conditioning.

"These actions are both already required by longstanding district procedures, but we are bringing them back to the forefront," district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said in a statement. "Our students' safety is our top concern."

Hezekiah collapsed at about 4 p.m. on the school's football field after the team had completed 30 to 40 minutes of drills, according to Tampa police. The coaches immediately called 911, the district said.

Tampa Fire Rescue paramedics were sent to the school at 4801 N 22nd St. to treat Hezekiah. They took him to St. Joseph's Hospital, where the teen was later pronounced dead. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office is now investigating what caused his death.

Police said the drills included weightlifting and wind sprints with water breaks.

"Our family is heartbroken with the loss of Hezekiah," the Walters family said in a statement sent to the Tampa Bay Times. "We are still in shock and asking God to provide us peace. As we grieve our loved one, we ask for your prayers and that you respect our privacy during this time."

Hezekiah came to Middleton from Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, a Tampa magnet school, according to the district. "We are devastated by the death of one of our students," Arja said in a statement. "This student was an amazing young man who was loved by his friends, teachers and staff at school. We were heartbroken to hear the news that he later passed away." No other details about the incident were released by officials.

High school football practice doesn't officially start in Florida until July 29. But football players and other student-athletes spend their summers working out. These unofficial conditioning sessions take place on school campuses and must be supervised by an adult.

Although the cause of Hezekiah's death remains undetermined, heat-related deaths have been a reoccurring concern in high school athletics, especially football.

Since 1995, there were 47 high school football players from across the nation who died from heat stroke according to the University of North Carolina's National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. Ninety percent of the reported deaths in the center's research occurred during practice.

At least two other players in Florida — Sebastian River's William Shogran Jr. (2014) and Fort Myers Riverdale's Zach Polsenberg (2018) — have died from heat stroke complications in the past five years.

During the university's most recent five-year study (2014-18) there was an average of 2.2 heat stroke deaths per year nationally, down from 3.2 per year from the previous five years. The decline is due to coaches and school personnel being educated on the proper protocols to undertake when student-athletes practice in the heat.

The Florida High School Athletics Association has a heat acclimatization policy that provides guidelines and procedures. The biggest requirement is for all member-school head coaches, paid assistants and student athletes to annually view the National Federation of High Schools online education course entitled "Heat Illness Prevention."

Times staff writer Kavitha Surana contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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