JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Madison Central head coach Anthony Hart can’t shake the eeriness from two weeks ago as Greenville’s Jeremiah Williams lay motionless on the field.
“Anytime you have a player injured, it’s got that feeling," said Hart. “It was the same way that night.”
Hart’s Madison Central team was the opponent two weeks ago when Williams broke his neck. His injuries, broken C1 and C4 vertebrae, proved fatal. Yet, an orthopedic surgeon from UMMC says suffering a deadly injury on a football field, while tragic, is a fluke.
“A lot of it is… I don’t want to say bad luck, but bad luck,” says Dr. Jim Hurt, an orthopaedic surgeron with UMMC sports medicine. “You torque the neck or flex the neck in just the certain way that the spine can either dislocate in between levels, or you have a bruise or a contusion of the spinal cord.”
Don Hinton, executive director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, says all athletes within their association are covered by catastrophic insurance. The MHSAA pays any penny after the initial $10,000 for an injury suffered by an athlete within their association. However, the MHSAA cannot mandate ambulances at all football games.
“With 250 high schools playing football, we could have 125 games going on,” says Hinton. “So it’s very difficult, particularly in our rural state of Mississippi, to have enough ambulance service.”
Individual schools are taking measures to protect their players. Pearl wears padded helmet covers, called “Guardians”, during practice. Head coach John Perry says they’ve seen only one concussion in practice in three years of wearing them.
“This sport is as safe as it’s ever been,” says Perry. “With tackling being taught the right way, I think it’s as safe a sport right now as it’s ever been.”
“When something bad like this happens, knee jerk reaction is ‘this is a common thing, we have to change the way we do things immediately,'” says Dr. Hurt. “And I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case. In the state of Mississippi, I think we do as good of a job as any state in the country as far as taking care of our football players.”