A near-record game near Kansas City Thursday night turned tragic Friday morning when a star running back was pronounced dead hours after he arrived at a hospital following an injury suffered in the game. Spring Hill (Kan.) senior running back, linebacker and homecoming king Nathan Stiles died Friday morning at University of Kansas hospital in Kansas City, just hours after his teammates finished off an astounding 99-72 victory over Osawatomie in the season finale for both teams.
While no official comment has been made on how Stiles suffered the injury, NBCActionNews.com first reported that a Spring Hill parent said Stiles intercepted an Osawatomie pass during the second period of Thursday night's game and suffered a hard hit. The running back reportedly made it to the sideline after the play but collapsed shortly thereafter.
The Miami County Republic, the closest local newspaper to Spring Hill, spoke to Spring Hill coach Anthony Orrick, who said the player complained of head pain before he collapsed on the sideline.
"It was just a routine play. I don't think there was anything special," said Spring Hill head coach Anthony Orrick after the game. "I think he just hit the ground pretty hard with his head. He came on the sideline and told one of my assistants, 'my head is really hurting.' He sat down on the bench. He then stood up, but his legs went underneath him and collapsed there."
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star spoke with Stiles' father, Miami County Commissioner Ron Stiles, who told the newspaper that his son had suffered a concussion during the school's homecoming game earlier this month but had been cleared to play in the game on Thursday.
For its part, the Kansas High School Activities Association has no enforced procedures for when to allow players to return to action following a concussion. KHSAA Football Administrator Rick Bowden told Prep Rally the organization issued a handful of concussion management guidelines and informational brochures via its website in the preseason, but it has yet to adopt full-fledged concussion management protocol. Bowden also said he was unaware if athletic trainers and other medical personnel used by school athletic departments had to pass certification from any state board, stating that the KHSAA does not regulate medical personnel in any way.
"As a follow up to the National Federation's changes in rules, the KHSAA executive board adopted recommendations and guidelines for all schools about concussions," Bowden told Prep Rally. "I talked about them when we did the rules meetings across the state, to make sure as best we can that everyone knows where to go to get information. That's the procedure we follow to try and get all the official recommendations and guidelines.
"There's a certain amount of responsibility on the part of the schools, to know that they have to try and protect their students and schools are doing that."
For now, the KHSAA is taking a back seat while Spring Hill deals with internal trauma before it tries to learn more about Stiles' death.
"We're working with our schools, trying to find out as best we can what happened," Bowden told Prep Rally. "There are certain privacy matters and we're trying to get information from the school as soon as they can let us know.
"An investigation implies that somebody was at fault and did something wrong. That has never been the position of the activites association. We're just trying to work with the school to find out exactly what happened. And we may never know exactly what happened."
KMBC.com reported that the game was stopped for an extended period of time while Stiles was taken from the field by helicopter from Osawatomie, where the game was played. Despite all that, the teams continued and eventually finished the marathon matchup at 10:45 p.m., nearly four hours after its opening kickoff.
Both Spring Hill and Osawatomie entered Thursday night's game with 1-7 records, with neither team in contention for the forthcoming state playoffs. That made the teams' finale a game for pride, and both offenses seemed determined to prove they had that in excess in the first half. According to PrepsKC.com, Spring Hill held a 46-44 lead after two quarters, and the two offenses hardly slowed down after that.
The final score was made all the more amazing by the teams' paucity of offense earlier in the season. Spring Hill in particular had scored only 51 points all season entering the game. The Broncos nearly surpassed that in the first half alone.
When Orrick was called about the game late Thursday night by the Kansas City Star's Kirk Seminoff, he was reportedly sheepish about the game's final result. Hours later, he would have to try and make sense of the death of his star player.
The Spring Hill school district brought grief counselors to Spring Hill High School to help students on Friday, hours after Stiles' passing. Spring Hill superintendent Bart Goering was reportedly with the Stiles family at the hospital when the player died, and the school district released an official statement early Friday.
"The district's primary concern is for the Stiles family and the many students and staff members that are affected by this tragedy," the school district's statement said.
Stiles' death is the second this year to come following an incident during a football game. The first occurred in September in Texas, when West Orange (Texas) Stark High quarterback Reggie Garrett collapsed on the sideline after throwing a touchdown pass. Just as there has been little early insight into the true nature of Stiles' death, the cause of Garrett's death is still under investigation, according to KFDM-TV.
The Kansas senior's death is also the second traumatic high school football incident to take place in the state in the past month, following the amputation of McLouth (Kansas) running back Trevor Roberts' lower left leg in early October.