Prosecutors: Coach's 'Barbaric Practice' Caused Player's Heat Death

Prosecutors say Stinson had been unusually brutal during the practice before Gilpin collapsed, denying Gilpin water and using peer pressure to push his players. He often forced players to keep running until one of them quit, they say.

"A reasonable person should have seen that [a death] could have happened," Kentucky Commonwealth Attorney Dave Stengel said.

Cause of Football Player's Death Disputed

A Jefferson County Public Schools report on Gilpin's death, issued July 1, said Stinson threatened to make his players run wind sprints until somebody quit the team, but concluded that he did not break district rules.

Despite that finding, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman said, "Such motivational tools are not acceptable."

Stinson's methods may have been harsh, but at least according to the coroner who performed the first autopsy on Gilpin, they were not criminal. The initial report ruled the teen's death an accident.

Dr. William Smock, the head of emergency medicine at the University of Louisville hospital, who has been a frequent prosecution expert witness for the past 25 years, also told prosecutors in March that he believed Gilpin's death was an accident.

Guilty or not, schools and coaches nationwide are paying close attention to this case. Nearly a dozen coaches' organizations have donated money for Stinson's defense, fearing what a guilty verdict might do to high school sports programs across the country.

"In the days to come, we're going to have a difficult time finding people to coach if situations like this arise," said Mike O'Donnell, a high school football coach in White Plains, N.Y.

The defense maintains that Gilpin's death was a result of his taking Adderall, which he used to treat attention deficit disorder, saying he did not die of dehydration.

The prosecution has suffered two blows since jury selection began Monday: First, Jefferson Circuit Judge Susan Schultz Gibson barred prosecutors from using 1,000 pages of evidence that she ruled was handed over to the defense too late; and second, she denied a defense request to delay the start of the trial.

Even before those rulings, legal experts were split about whether prosecutors would be able to make their case, and some said they have a tough hill to climb.

"The prosecution must prove that the coach failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a death would occur," said Louisville defense attorney Steve Romines, who is not connected to the case. "All over the country that day, football players were being conditioned."

Heat Deaths in Youth Football Preventable, Experts Say

With his team, O'Donnell says he takes all the proper precautions during games and practices. Players are given water whenever it's requested, and he carefully times practices to prevent overwork.His staff is also trained in CPR and defibrillation.

But in a tough sport like football, O'Donnell says nothing can guarantee a player's safety.

"It could happen to anyone," said said. "A kid can go down right now as I'm standing here, and you really have no control over it."

According to both the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Athletic Trainers' Association, the risk of heat deaths can be minimized by proper training techniques.

In 2005, the ACSM released a set of specific guidelines for how coaches should handle practices to reduce the risk of heat-related death and injury.

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