A jury is being chosen to decide whether a former Louisville, Ky., high school football coach should be convicted of reckless homicide for the death of a player who collapsed during practice one hot August day last year.
The trial of Jason Stinson is believed to be the first time a coach has faced criminal charges for working his players too tough, and other coaches say it could have a chilling effect on their profession.
Stinson, who coached at Louisville's Pleasure Ridge Park High School, is charged with reckless homicide and wanton endangerment in connection with the heat stroke-related death of Max Gilpin, 15, who was a sophomore offensive lineman on Stinson's squad.
If convicted, Stinson faces up to 10 years behind bars.
Gilpin collapsed last summer during practice after doing wind sprints in 94-degree heat and died three days later.
"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 every summer of heat-related problem over 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 they 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," 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.
Prosecutors say Stinson had been unusually brutal during the practice, 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.
A Jefferson County Public Schools report on the boy's death, issued July 1, said Stinson threatened to make his players run wind sprints -- "gassers" -- 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.