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Published: Friday, 9/17/2004

Stricken athlete suffered cramps

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Thirty minutes after first complaining that he was ill during a team practice Wednesday, the condition of Bowling Green State University walk-on football player Aaron Richardson began to deteriorate.

Within an hour, he was dead.

Yesterday, everyone who was involved was left to deal with the questions caused by the tragedy, including university officials, the team, and the family of the 18-year-old who graduated last spring from Sandusky's Perkins Township High School.

"It's obviously a tragedy, and you just can't explain these types of things," said Bowling Green football coach Gregg Brandon.

Statements given to BGSU police give some details of Mr. Richardson's treatment, but leave questions unanswered.

Athletic trainers told police the athlete left practice after complaining of cramps, but family members yesterday said

BGSU officials told them that he left the field complaining of tightness in his chest.

Also, athletic department spokesman J.D. Campbell said Wednesday a full-time trainer left the field with the athlete, but the reports to police make no mention that a trainer was with Mr. Richardson when he left the field after saying he was ill.

BGSU head football coach Gregg Brandon said, 'It's obviously a tragedy, and you just can't explain these types of things.' BGSU head football coach Gregg Brandon said, 'It's obviously a tragedy, and you just can't explain these types of things.'
LONG / BLADE Enlarge

Mr. Campbell said last night that his initial information from the team was wrong, that a student assistant football coach - not a trainer - accompanied Mr. Richardson to the locker room.

BGSU athletic director Paul Krebs said yesterday he doesn't plan to change the procedures for on-field treatment of players.

"From all of the reports and all the information we have, our training staff did an outstanding job," Mr. Krebs said.

"There's no question [I'm comfortable with the work they did]. In fact, we received commendations from the emergency room."

According to the witness reports filed with BGSU police, here's what happened:

●Head trainer Doug Boersma said Mr. Richardson was running sprints back and forth across the width of the practice field while wearing shoulder pads and a helmet along with shorts and a mesh shirt. He struggled to complete the final two sprints and complained of cramps. He left the field at 3:05 p.m.

●At 3:26 p.m. student assistant football coach Jeff Runnells came onto the field and told Mr. Boersma that Mr. Richardson was cramping in the lockerroom. Mr. Boersma sent assistant trainer Annette Davidson to check on Mr. Richardson.

●Ms. Davidson said she found Mr. Richardson lying on his back, responsive, and talking. Shortly after he became less responsive and his pulse was weaker.

●At 3:42 p.m. Ms. Davidson called Mr. Boersma on the field and told him she was calling 911. While making the 911 call, Mr. Richardson stopped breathing, she said.

●Mr. Boersma arrived and began applying CPR while a student trainer retrieved a heart defibrillator. The defibrillator was applied, but the machine indicated "no shock advised" and was not used.

●At 3:47 the Bowling Green fire department rescue squad arrived and took over CPR while transporting Mr. Richardson to Wood County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:35 p.m.

Dr. Douglas S. Hess, Wood County coroner, was to have performed an autopsy on Mr. Richardson yesterday, but his office staff said they had received no information about the results. Dr. Hess could not be reached for comment.

In response to the tragedy, Coach Brandon said the team called off its scheduled practice yesterday, instead holding a half-hour prayer vigil on the practice field before talking about it in groups based on position.

"This is something, especially for our younger kids who may not have experienced a loss like this, where it's good for them to talk," he said.

"When we strap on the pads, we ask our team to go hard, so it probably wasn't a good thing to ask them to do that today," Coach Brandon said.

"Their heads and hearts just weren't in it, and we have to understand that and respect that," he said.

The Falcons do not play this weekend; their next contest is against Northern Illinois on Friday, Sept. 24.

Family members in Sandusky said Mr. Richardson had no known medical problems and had spent the summer preparing to try out for the BGSU football team.

"He's never been ill," said his mother, Alice Ashburn. "That's what's so shocking about the whole situation."

A four-year member of the Perkins High School football and track teams, Mr. Richardson trained hard over the summer and "was probably in the best shape of his life," said Danny Aaron, a cousin.

"He worked out every day weight lifting and running. He was avid at the gym. And that's probably the most shocking thing.

"It would be one thing if he went to camp unprepared. But he'd been through conditions like that before. It wasn't an unusually hot day."

In August, Mr. Richardson passed a team-administered physical and was cleared to play.

Mr. Aaron said Mr. Richardson was determined to make the Falcon football team.

"He had this dream, to show he was the caliber to play Division I football," his cousin said.

Residents of Ashley Hall, the dorm where Mr. Richardson lived, met with university counselors Wednesday after receiving word of his death.

Several residents contacted around the dorm yesterday declined to talk about the incident, but Craig Vickio, a clinical psychologist who is the director of the school's counseling center, was at Wednesday's meeting and said he wasn't surprised by that response.

"They might wish to talk about [the incident], but they want to talk to people close to them, or to people they know," Mr. Vickio said.

He said one common response he saw from students Wednesday was numbness and shock.

Mr. Richardson's death made him the second BGSU student-athlete to die in three seasons. Leslie Dawley was a freshman women's soccer player who collapsed and died on Nov. 5, 2002, while playing in a Mid-American Conference tournament game played at Cochrane Field.

This is the second trauma suffered by the football team this season. Junior tight end Steve Navarro suffered a stroke in his off-campus apartment on June 7 and currently is not with the team. He hopes to return to the school in the spring, but his future playing status is unknown.

Blade staff writers Steve Murphy and Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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