Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 25, 2007

Untrained coaches lead to big injuries

It was all about making the team for a dozen Danbury, Conn., boys who dressed in plastic garbage bags on Labor Day weekend last year for an intensive sweat-down, weight-loss session just days before their football team's first game.

The Pop Warner football league restricted players on their team to 110 pounds. The boys were all over the mark. One had to lose nearly 9 pounds to be eligible.

In a little more than 24 hours, all lost enough weight to play.

Parents later complained to authorities that two of the team's volunteer coaches went too far with the pre-game weight loss regimen for the boys, ages 7 to 13, some of whom were driven around in cars with windows up and heaters on. They also were taken to a local sauna and given over-the-counter diuretic pills to speed the loss of fluid and reduce weight.

Police arrested the coaches -- Joshua Weyer, 22, and Christopher Murphy, 24 -- and they were charged with felony child endangerment, carrying the possibility of 10 years in prison. Both avoided prosecution when they entered a program for first-time offenders. If they complete two years' probation, the charges will be dismissed.

The case shocked Danbury and its youth sports community. It also illustrated what some youth sports experts call a national problem of untrained coaches who, through ignorance or determination to win at all costs, expose children to injuries that could have lifelong effects.

More than 50 million children play organized sports in the United States, according to the National Council of Youth Sports. Each year more than 1 million suffer an injury that causes missed school, forces a trip to the hospital or requires surgery.

Besides the usual sprained ankles and knees, doctors report a surge of serious injuries from overtraining, poor athletic techniques and rushed recovery from old injuries -- cases that might have been avoided if adults had taken steps to prevent them.

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