In 2007, Zachary Alt was a sophomore football player at Highlands (Pa.) High, a fullback who played with toughness that belied his small size. Four years later, he is suffering with a multitude of side effects brought on by a series of concussions he suffered during that season, none of which led to him being pulled off the field. The ramifications have been severe enough to warrant a lawsuit on the part of Alt and his family against the Highlands School District, in the Pittsburgh area, alleging that the school district, the Highlands High football coach, trainer, principal and assistant principal all used "deliberate disregard for [Alt's] welfare" when allowing the sophomore to continue to play despite the concussions he suffered.
The lawsuit is being referred to by Alt's lawyer, Robert Peirce, as the first brought against a Pennsylvania school district by a player who allegedly suffered unneeded head trauma, though it will probably not be the last. It follows in the footsteps of a small cadre of lawsuits filed in other parts of the country which also allege negligent behavior toward players who suffer traumatic head injuries.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and CBS Pittsburgh, among other sources, Alt's case provides several hallmarks of collective institutional oversight and disregard when the Highlands School District was faced with overwhelming evidence of damage Alt was suffering. According to Alt's mother, Megan Alt, she was not told of her son's first two concussions, and only brought him to seek further medical attention when one of his teammates called her after a game and begged her to take him to the emergency room.
At that point, Megan Alt took her son to the Alle-Kiski Medical Center's emergency room, where he was diagnosed with what the legal complaint refers to as a "substantial head injury," one which has led to Zach Alt's continued memory loss, nausea and problems sleeping and eating, all of which began after his series of concussions.
"Another teammate went to the trainer and told the trainer, 'Zach isn't right. He is walking around like he is drunk.' Neither the coach nor the trainer kept him out of the game," Peirce told the Pittsburgh media on Thursday.
And, because all of his teammates could tell Alt was affected, his mother said there was no excuse for those in positions of authority to ignore the obvious signs that he was suffering.
"It was obvious to his friends who played on the team with him. How could the adults not see it?" Megan Alt told the Tribune-Review.
The elder Alt made it clear that she doesn't want to "stop football." Rather, she claims that she is out to help prevent other players from facing the same uncertain future that currently plagues her son. Zach Alt attempts to work for his mother's cleaning company, but reportedly often can clean for only an hour before being forced to lie down because of painful headaches. Peirce insists that it is clear his client will never be able to work an eight-hour day.
"It has been a nightmare, to say the least," Megan Alt told the Tribune-Review. "It has changed my family. It has changed my son."