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Teen rugby captain dies on field just days after Wes Leonard's passing

Prep Rally

They say that bad things come in groups of three. One can only hope that's not true in the case of prep sports tragedy, with a second teenager falling on the field of play just days after Michigan teen basketball star Wes Leonard's tragic passing.

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According to the Associated Press, ABC News and numerous other sources, 17-year-old Colorado rugby player Matthew Hammerdorfer collapsed and died during a rugby match in Fort Collins, Colo., on Saturday. The Poudre (Colo.) High junior -- who was captain of the Grand Valley rugby team he was playing for -- was competing with a known heart defect, a condition for which he had undergone three surgeries to correct.

Hammerdorfer's death came just before halftime of his team's rugby match against a team from Grand Valley, Colo. According to Grand Gents rugby coach Doug Evans, Hammerdorfer made a tackle on a Grand Gents player, picked him up off the ground, retreated 10 meters (the required distance before a re-start) and then collapsed to the ground.

"The gentleman that [Hammerdorfer] was, he bent over, picked up our player, and got him to his feet," Evans told NBC11News.com. "He immediately ran backwards because you have to be 10 meters back once a penalty is established. He retreated back, took two steps and immediately dropped to the ground.

"We're all saddened by this. It just chokes me up to see anybody go through that. I think it's been draining on all of us."

Within hours of his passing, touching tributes began streaming onto a Facebook page called We Love You Matthew Hammerdorfer, set up to memorialize the teenager. Lucas Hoem, one of Hammerdorfer's close friends, told the Fort Collins Coloradan that Hammerdorfer played soccer, rugby, basketball, baseball and football, focusing predominantly on soccer and rugby.

While there was early concern that Hammerdorfer's passing may have been precipitated by the hit he endured on that tackle, Larimer County deputy coroner Kari Jones on Sunday quickly ruled that out as a cause of death.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dual tragedies in the span of three days has begun to jump-start a national dialogue on whether teen athletes should be required to undergo an electrocardiogram (EKG) before being allowed to participate in scholastic athletics.

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While some critics have argued that such a move would be too costly for its benefits, ABC News reported statistics that claimed as many as 40 children a year will die suddenly from heart defects during athletic competition. If one can't place a cost on saving a life, how can legislators or medical officials argue that requiring EKGs -- or echocardiograms, their cheaper, quicker counterparts -- is an unnecessary measure?

At the same time, advocates for having automatic electronic defibrillators in all athletic spaces are also stepping forward, claiming that if AEDs had been available at either the Fennville, Mich., gym or rugby field in Timnath, Colo., one of the fallen teens might have survived.

It may be too late to save either teen now, but as memorials continue to stream in, the chance to bring more safety to high school athletics may still remain as the teenagers' lasting legacy.

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