When former Lely High School football star Ereck Plancher died on March 18, 2008 due to sickle cell trait following an off-season University of Central Florida football practice, the Florida High School Athletic Association Board said it would take action to make sure its athletes were screened.
It took awhile, but effective the 2010-2011 school year, questions pertaining to sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait are on the state’s mandatory athletic pre-participation form.
Those seeking to play high school sports have to take the questionnaire form to their physician for them to review prior to giving approval for athletes to participate in any sport.
Question No. 39 asks “Have you ever been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia?
Question 46 asks “Have you ever been diagnosed with sickle cell trait?”
Plancher had been tested and was monitored by the Lely coaching staff, then-coach Steve Pricer said following Plancher’s death at UCF.
A jury ruled the UCF Athletics Association was negligent in Plancher’s death and awarded his parents, Enock and Giesele, $10 million on June 30. UCF is expected to appeal the decision.
Prior to this school year there was no way the school or a coach would know if an athlete had the trait unless they were tested on their own, or were born in the United States.
By law, testing for sickle cell anemia, or sickle cell trait, is mandatory if born in the U.S. However, many local athletes are not born in Florida, coming here from other countries.
According to the College of American Pathologists the sickle cell trait is found in one in 12 African Americans.
In the fall of 2008, Acener Estilien, a Lely senior who played football and basketball, spoke about the disease, which he was diagnosed with in third grade.
“I was having very hard pain in my back and chest,” said Estilien, who was placed on medication.
“It comes and goes,” he said. “When I push hard it comes on and I have to take it easy.”
Pricer and basketball coach Don Stewart were aware of Estilien’s condition and monitored his play.
Seth Polanksy, FHSAA spokesman, said that since the high school questionnaire has been issued a death related to sickle cell occurred at Wekiva High School in Apopka during a football practice.
When 15-year-old Olivier Louis collapsed on the field during football practice on Sept. 7, excessive heat or undiagnosed heart problems were among the factors blamed for the seemingly healthy freshman’s death.
But an autopsy released after the teenager’s death by the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office in Orlando revealed another cause, exertional sickling, a complication of sickle cell trait that turns oxygen-carrying red blood cells into sickle-shaped cells that clog blood vessels and restrict blood flow.
“The district is prohibited by law to discuss the contents of individual student medical records,” Orange County Public Schools said in a statement. “The district will confirm it had the required medical records on file prior to Mr. Louis’ participation in football activities.
“OCPS believes its staff at Wekiva High School did all it could to assist the stricken football player Olivier Louis on Sept. 7, 2010. Two certified licensed athletic trainers were on site and attended to the student as soon as he was observed in distress and actively cared for him until an ambulance and emergency medical technicians arrived at the practice field. The staff and community of Wekiva High School are still saddened by the loss of one of their promising Mustang students.”
The FHSAA does not have a tracking device for sports deaths.
“We have 244,000 students, tracking everyone would be very costly,” Polansky said. “Should we track lightning strikes, a player dying from a heart murmur? There are so many variables, while deaths attributed to athletic participation are incredibly low.”
Blood tests are also not part of a normal sports physical, Polansky said.
“Why don’t we include EKGs, EEGs, Cat Scans?” he said. “Where should it stop?”
When a doctor is made aware of the disease through the filled-out form, further diagnostic costs fall to the parents or guardians.
“These tests all cost money and a lot of kids are in low socioeconomic levels. They can barely afford physicals,” Polanksy said. ‘(Pre-participation) physicals are more of an external evaluation.”
It comes down to physicians catching any red flags, follow-up testing, reporting to schools and coaches monitoring athletes once diagnosed.
In the fall of 2008, Jeff Charelus, Plancher’s cousin, proudly wore jersey No. 5 as a way for Lely to remember Plancher. Although he is a blood relative, Charelus had not been tested because he was not born in the U.S.
At the time there was nothing on the state pre-participation form that posed the question.