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Memphis area teen dies after apparent typical football hit in practice, leaving town in shock

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A Memphis high school is in mourning after the tragic death of a football player, who fell dead after what is believed to be a completely innocuous collision during a traditional afternoon practice.

As reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Memphis NBC affiliate WMC-TV, among other sources, 15-year-old Dana Payne, a sophomore on the Millington (Tenn.) Central football team, died en route to a nearby hospital after he never got up from a hit during the team's afternoon practice. A family friend who was attending the practice said the collision that felled Payne came on a normal play, and that CPR was immediately administered on the field and briefly revived the teen's heartbeat, but he was lost again en route to the hospital.

"[Payne's death is] a tragic loss," Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aitken told the Commercial Appeal. "Anytime you lose a sophomore in high school it's heartbreaking and it never gets easier."

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Millington Central football player Dana Payne — Facebook

Millington Central football player Dana Payne — Facebook

While Payne's death has sent the Millington Central community into upheaval, the circumstances surrounding it may be the most confounding aspect of the entire episode. Payne was a healthy, 5-foot-11, 143-pound sophomore and one of the budding talents on the team. There was no reason to expect that he would be vulnerable to a sudden death following any football collision, let alone one that fell firmly in the day-in, day-out category.

It will likely take some time to determine exactly why Payne collapsed and never recovered. In the meantime, Millington as a whole has rallied around the football team, putting black and gold ribbons (the Trojans' colors are black and gold) around the town to honor the memory of a driven young man who hoped to eventually attend Vanderbilt and become a doctor in the community.

On Wednesday morning alone, eight Millington Central students were transported to area hospitals dealing with severe bouts of emotional distress related to the death of the teen.

"We feel like [the ribbons are] the best thing we can do," Millington Mayor Linda Carter told the Commercial Appeal. "It's very, very quiet out here. Not like a typical high school; not like a typical city.

"The kids are emotional. ... The football team is having a real hard time, as well as the coaches."

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