Three wrestlers from Darton State College in Georgia were hospitalized after suffering heat-related illnesses during outdoor workouts, with one remaining in critical condition, according to various media reports Friday.
The incidents took place over a two-day period at the Albany, Ga. college. On Tuesday, freshman Alex Washington became ill during an afternoon five-mile run on a school practice field, and was transported to a local hospital where he was still undergoing treatment as of Friday evening.
The following day, two other Darton wrestlers – sophomore Ben Richards, and freshman Jaden Smith – were hospitalized. Richards remains in critical condition; Smith was released Friday.
During a Friday press conference, the school said that it had heat guidelines in place when the incidents occurred. In fact, the guidelines were strengthened after the first illness, yet, despite those changes, two more wrestlers became ill on Wednesday.
“Anybody who showed signs of struggle (on the second day) were removed, and others had the opportunity to remove themselves,” Darton athletic director Mike Kiefer at the press conference.
Kiefer said that, after the first student became ill, additional extra water sessions were instituted, and wrestlers were told they could take additional water breaks as they felt necessary. In addition, the athletic director said additional education was provided on proper nutrition and hydration. Now, he said, officials are speaking with medical and training experts to see how protocols can be further modified.
In the meantime, outdoor practice sessions for the wrestling squad have been canceled.
According to Keifer, there were no incidents of heat-related illness with the wrestling team last year.
A prayer vigil for the fallen wrestlers was held Friday evening on the practice field where the athletes became ill.
Albany NBC affiliate WALB-TV reported Friday night that Ben Richards, 20, had a temperature of 107 degrees when he arrived at the hospital Wednesday. The sophomore from Tampa is battling kidney failure and pneumonia.
"I want my boy. That's what I want more than anything else in this world," Ben’s father Chuck Richards told WALB-TV. “But -- the doctor told me this may not end well for Ben. Not knowing exactly what he meant, I said 'What do you mean?' He said this is a procedure in which Ben could die…"
The Darton State wrestling program is coached by James Hicks, a former Campbellsville University assistant coach who took the helm at Darton in June 2012. Hicks was hired after long-time Purdue assistant coach Tom Erikson suddenly left the position only days after having accepted the job. Erikson was to take the place of Chris Fleeger, a former Purdue wrestler and coach, who had been hired in June 2011 but resigned to return to the staff of the Boilermakers at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Founded in 1963 as Albany Junior College, Darton State College recently became a four-year state school. The 5,900-student school, located in southwestern Georgia, launched its wrestling program in 2007.
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