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Hillsborough School Officials Removed After Student-Athlete's Death

Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins stands at a podium.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins, seen in a file photo, announced this week penalities in the case of a Hillsborough County student's death

Last month, during football conditioning at Middleton High School, an incoming freshman football player died. An investigation found that school staff did not follow correct procedures or have the proper paperwork filed.

Hezekiah B. Walters, 14, collapsed on the field on June 11. He was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he later died.

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins, said in a press conference Monday, certain protocolconcerning Walter’s paperwork was not followed.

“We found, in our investigation, incomplete records, record keeping for Hezekiah’s student athlete clearance records by an administrator and the coach,” Eakins said. “Not all of his online paperwork had been completed, we believe Hezekiah had an athletic physical, but his family did not upload it into our system at the time conditioning began.”

Eakins also said that Walters did not submit documentation showing he watched some required videos, including one on heat safety, but was allowed to participate anyways.

“Our assistant principal (Mark Jones) for administration and the (head football) coach (Fred Reid) at Middleton did not follow those protocols at that time. We found incomplete paperwork of other student athletes at the same school, and that is unacceptable,” Eakins said.

“The assistant principal has been demoted, he’s been transferred to a different school in a different role, he will no longer be responsible for student athlete records,” Eakins said. “The head coach was not there that day the incident. However, he had been there on other previous conditioning days. He has been transferred to another school and he no longer will be a coach.”

Hillsborough County schools stopped all athletic conditioning and practices after Walters’s death to confirm students’ forms were filled out and procedures would be followed.

Eakins also talked briefly about a plan to ensure that full-time athletic trainers would be at all public high schools sporting events, including summer practices. Right now, only about half of the county’s high schools—including Middleton -- have trainers. They are often volunteers from various health organizations who donate their time.

The plan also includes continuing to provide safety instructions for coaches, and requiring athletic programs to have cold water emersion tubs.

The plan will be discussed at August’s school board meeting.

Eakins did not take questions from reporters because of a pending lawsuit by the Walters family.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, “the Yerrid Law Firm representing the Walters family sent a legal claim letter seeking documents related about the workout when Hezekiah collapsed. The letter said Hezekiah’s father informed Middleton coaches that his son had never performed rigorous training before and ‘would need appropriate instruction, supervision and guidance while being gradually conditioned into team activities that only experienced and prepared athletes are acclimatized to endure.’”

Adam Bakst is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.