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Hillsborough school district nears settlement with family of football player Hezekiah B. Walters

The 14-year-old incoming Middleton High freshman died following a conditioning workout last June.
Family and friends of 14-year-old Hezekiah B. Walters assist funeral staff in carrying out the casket that holds Walters as they exit his funeral on June 22, 2019, in Temple Terrace. Walters, a Middleton High football player, collapsed and subsequently died after running conditioning drills at the school.
Family and friends of 14-year-old Hezekiah B. Walters assist funeral staff in carrying out the casket that holds Walters as they exit his funeral on June 22, 2019, in Temple Terrace. Walters, a Middleton High football player, collapsed and subsequently died after running conditioning drills at the school. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Jun. 4, 2020|Updated Jun. 4, 2020

The Hillsborough County school district is nearing a $1 million settlement agreement with the family of a 14-year-old Middleton High football player who collapsed and died following conditioning drills last summer.

A recommendation to approve the settlement with the family of Hezekiah B. Walters is on the agenda for Tuesday’s school board meeting. The money will be paid from the school district’s general fund, according to the agenda.

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School district spokesperson Tanya Arja indicated in an e-mail that the district would address the matter next week. The Walters family’s attorney, Steve Yerrid, said in a text message that “we are in discussions to create a new, safer environment for all student-athletes but it is a work in progress right now.”

“We are working towards a goal that will deliver some justice to the (Walters) family but just as importantly institute actions and change that will have a far-reaching impact on advancing the safety, protection and welfare of student-athletes for years to come,” Yerrid added.

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 and later died.
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 and later died. [ MEN OF VISION | Special to the Times ]

“In that manner and with that approach, the resolution we are seeking includes much more than payment of money for the tragic and unnecessary death of 14-year-old Hezekiah Walters.”

Walters, an incoming freshman, collapsed in the late afternoon of June 11 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 school district said.

When Walters died at St. Joseph’s Hospital, his temperature was 102 degrees, according to an investigative summary released by the Hillsborough County medical examiner.

A school district investigation found some safety protocols weren’t followed before Walters’ death. Among them: Middleton didn’t have proper paperwork on file for Walters and didn’t possess complete paperwork for other student-athletes at the school.

Additionally, then-Tigers coach Fred Reid was not present the day Walters died, though some of his assistants were. Reid had conducted other workouts, then-superintendent Jeff Eakins said.

Reid was transferred to another school and a Middleton assistant principal was demoted. Walters’ death also prompted the school district to immediately halt summer workouts at all schools and undergo a complete review of safety procedures at every school.

Two months after Walters’ death, the school district announced each of its high schools would have year-round certified athletic trainers.

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