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Alabama town coping after players hurt by falling wall

November 14, 2018

OAKMAN, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama community is coping after five of its high school football players were injured when a block wall collapsed in a locker room before a game.

“Initially, they were in shock,” Oakman High School Principal Patrick Gann said of the student body. “They were really upset and worried. Some of them were even in tears that happened to their friends, and seeing them hauled off in an ambulance, on stretchers, was eerie.”

Oakman football players traveled over three hours to Pike County High School last Friday to face the Bulldogs in the first round of the 3A playoffs. Shortly before the game, a concrete retaining wall in the visitor’s locker room at Pike County High collapsed on five Oakman players.

All five were taken to hospitals, and three suffered back injuries. Around midday Tuesday, Oakman coach Mark Hastings said one student remained in the hospital, while another was released Sunday in a back brace. Another student was visiting an orthopedic physician for back and shoulder injuries.

He said two other players were released from the hospital the night of the incident after suffering head lacerations. Those two students are expected to have no lasting impacts from their injuries, but the healing process of the other three players remains uncertain.

Three of the injured players were starters, which Hastings said put the team at a disadvantage when they played Pike County in the rescheduled game Monday. The Wildcats lost 21-8, but Hastings commended the team for their valiant effort.

“They definitely hurt for their teammates. A lot of them are really close, so obviously that was tough on them,” Hastings said. “They also knew they had 40 other teammates that needed them, and they needed to give it their best effort — both mentally and physically — and that’s what they did.”

Oakman Mayor Cory Franks said his nephew was one of the players injured Friday. His nephew has been released from Children’s of Alabama and will be wearing a back brace for a while due to injured vertebrae. He will not be able to play sports for the remainder of the school year and possibly next year, according to Franks.

He said his nephew was still trying to process what happened when he visited him at Children’s Friday night.

“He was in shock. He couldn’t walk, and he wasn’t saying much. He was in a lot of pain,” Franks said. “He was really just shaken up by the whole incident. ... It was a traumatic situation for the kids.”

He added: “Being such a small town, anything that happens on that level affects everybody, and we’re all concerned for the well-being of our children athletes. I know that the school is going to handle it and make sure they get the answers they need.”

Gann said the superintendent of Pike County Schools, along with the high school’s principal, have remained supportive. He also spoke to the state fire marshal investigating the incident. What caused the wall in the locker room to fall remains uncertain.

Walker County’s interim school superintendent, Joel Hagood, called the incident “bizarre.”

“None of the boys were acting out of the ordinary. They weren’t rough housing or playing around — pushing on the wall, in other words, for it to collapse. It sounds like the wall just fell,” he said.

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Information from: Daily Mountain Eagle, http://www.mountaineagle.com

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