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H.S. Football Deaths Raise Questions

November 1, 2000

BARBERTON, Ohio (AP) _ Perhaps the saddest thing about the funeral Wednesday for a high school football player was that there was a similar memorial service in nearby Cleveland.

The deaths of 15-year-old linebackers Joshua Miller and Marcus Steele _ both from apparent heart problems _ have stirred discussion about whether athletes are screened well enough for such ailments before they take the field.

The mother of another northeast Ohio football player who died recently because of a heart condition is hoping schools and athletic associations will uniformly require that students be asked about family medical history during physicals.

Linette Derminer said sharing that information and educating athletes about cardiac conditions ``doesn’t cost anything. It’s just going to cost a parent, an athlete and a physician some time.″

Derminer said her son was born premature and had a heart murmur that a doctor said he had outgrown. Although her family has a history of heart problems and early death, she said she didn’t realize her son was at risk.

Some state athletic organizations, including the Ohio High School Athletic Association, have forms recommended for use in a pre-participation exam. The forms include questions about allergies, medications and known serious illnesses but do not ask about family history or heart problems.

Deborah Moore, OHSAA assistant commissioner, said physical exams are required each year but individual schools can require them more often and can use more detailed forms.

She said the OHSAA medical advisory committee in January will consider improving the form.

Information was not available Wednesday about whether the two Cleveland area schools use a different form. A message was left at Cleveland Central Catholic, where Steele was a student Larry Bidlingmyer, athletics director at Barberton High School _ Miller’s school _ refused to comment.

Bruce Howard, spokesman for the National Federation of State High School Associations, said his organization cannot standardize physical exams due to variations of state laws and regulations.

The NFHS does advise ``a comprehensive inquiry into each student athlete’s medical history″ as part of exams.

Four high school athletes, including Steele, have died in the United States this school year from heart problems, said Fred Mueller of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research in Chapel Hill, N.C.

If Miller’s death is confirmed as being from a heart problem, he will be the fifth. He collapsed on the sideline Friday night in Barberton, 32 miles south of Cleveland, and initial autopsy results indicated a problem with his heart.

An average of 15 sudden deaths, caused by bodily failures, are reported each year, Mueller said.

However, Dr. Barry Maron of the Minnesota Heart Institute said reliable statistics on the number of heart-related athlete deaths are difficult to pin down because of a lack of standardized data.

The American Heart Association estimates about 1 in about 200,000 high school athletes die during play.

Marcus Steele died Oct. 13 after suffering a heart attack caused by an enlarged heart. Derminer’s son, 17-year-old Ken, died in June during practice at Geneva High School, about 45 miles east of Cleveland, of the same condition.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which the Heart Association says is the cause of about one-third of sudden deaths in athletes, also was responsible for the death of University of Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers during a 1990 game.

In Barberton, about 400 relatives, students and school officials crammed into Lakeview United Methodist Church for Miller’s funeral. His teammates and fellow students hugged each other as they were encouraged to live the rest of their lives for their friend.

At Steele’s memorial, about 700 people crowded into a St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church for a Mass where Bishop Anthony Pilla urged youngsters to follow in Steele’s footsteps by being an enthusiastic student.

Maron said high schools and colleges should improve their levels of screening through inquiry into family history. ``You can’t suggest a perfect system, but it’s a better system because more at-risk students are identified,″ he said.

A survey released earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found screening programs at the nation’s colleges fail to pay enough attention to athletes’ family history.

Linette Derminer, who started the nonprofit organization Kids Endangered Now, said coaches should also be trained in CPR and the use of automatic external defribillators, which give electric shocks for abnormal heart rhythms.

``Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean we can’t have preventive steps,″ she said.

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