Former high school football coach Jason Stinson sat quietly in court for the start of his trial for reckless homicide Tuesday -- in stark contrast to the prosecution's emotional opening arguments that painted him as a rookie, winning-obsessed coach, and those of the defense that said he was nothing more than the victim of a witch hunt.
The trial will decide whether the former Louisville, Ky., coach should be convicted of reckless homicide for the death of a player who collapsed during practice one hot August day last year.
Prosecutors said the players from Louisville's Pleasure Ridge Park High School were in full gear, and several of them, including 15-year-old Max Gilpin, were denied water and told to keep running wind sprints -- called "gassers" -- in 94 degree heat, even after vomiting. When Gilpin collapsed, prosecutors said Stinson did nothing and "never got within 10 feet of Max Gilpin."
Gilpin died three days later.
"Who started this barbaric practice?" prosecutor Leland Hulbert said. "Who made them run more gassers than they ever have run all year? Coach Stinson."
The defense said the boy's death was not Stinson's fault, saying instead that the amphetamine Adderall, the medication that Gilpin was taking to battle attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, caused him to overheat. The boy's body temperature was 107 degrees when he collapsed.
"Amphetimines affect the body's ability to do the thermal regulation," defense attorney Brian Butler said in court Tuesday. "This has been nothing but a witch hunt by these people."
"This man is innocent!" Butler yelled.
Stinson's trial is believed to be the first in which a coach has faced criminal charges for working his players too hard, and other coaches say it could have a chilling effect on their profession.
If convicted, Stinson faces up to 10 years behind bars.
"I lost one of my boys, a boy that I loved and a boy that I cared for," Stinson said during a January vigil outside his home organized by his supporters.
Stinson may be the first high school coach ever charged with homicide for allegedly working a player to death, but athletes collapsing and dying during the tough summer football workouts are virtually an annual occurrence.
An average of four to five athletes have died of heat-related problem every summer for the last 10 years, according to Michael Bergeron, the director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance and Center for Youth Sports & Health, and a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine.
But he said the problem goes far beyond the four or five who die each year, because countless other young athletes have serious heat-related injuries or problems. But because these other episodes are not fatal, they get little attention.
The most recent case may be Brent Shinn McGhee, a 13-year-old San Antonio boy who died Aug. 25, the day after his first practice for the Vernon Middle School football team held in temperatures of more than 100 degrees.
"Putting kids through this to win a football game, it makes no sense," Brent's father Brock McGhee told The Associated Press. He said he believes the heat was at least partly the cause of his son's death, but said he did not blame the coaches.