Darton calls press conference after heat illnesses

Students join for a vigil on the spot where their wrestling teammate Alex Richards went down. Prayers are going forward to bring him into good health. / Jessica Fairley

Friday afternoon at 4:00 pm Darton State College Athletic Director Mike Kiefer held a press conference about several wrestling students who were struck with heat related illnesses.

Darton President, Dr. Peter Sireno, and Gary Barnette, the Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs also attended the meeting.

The conference was the result of three wrestling students who had to be hospitalized after passing out in the high temperatures during practice.

Tuesday afternoon, freshman Alex Washington collapsed during practice. He was taken to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital where he remains.

The following day, school officials modified their practice protocol by providing extra breaks for students. James Hicks, the head wrestling coach, was in charge during the practices.

During Friday's press conference Mike Kiefer, the Athletic Director, stressed that no one from the coaching staff was pushing students to continue running if they were fatigued or stressed.

Although practice was altered, two additional students still ended up in the hospital. Benjamin Richards, a sophomore, and Jaden Smith, a freshman, suffered heat related illnesses.

Jaden Smith has been released from medical care but Benjamin Richards is still in critical condition.

"I went to visit both of them today and Alex is in good spirits but he's got double pneumonia in his lungs. That's terrible and I was praying for Ben that his kidney will just jumpstart and start working," said John Callihan, a Darton State College wrestler.

Medical professionals say if an athlete isn't acclimated to the heat or over exerts himself too fast, there could be muscle damage because of a lack of fuel.

"Once that fuel is depleted the muscles breaks down and all the substance that are inside the cell can leak out into the blood stream and can cause some problems with kidneys and other problems," said Dr. Augusto Soltero, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Sports Medicine Physician.

This condition is called rhabdomiolisis.

Darton officials say that the school does have heat guidelines in place to prevent heat illness.

Since the incidents occurred, school leaders have implemented additional safety measures for practices. Wrestling athletes will no longer practice in the afternoon hours when the sun is the hottest. Students will also be stressed to take precaution by eating enough food and drinking plenty of fluids.

A prayer vigil was organized and held for the ailing students at Darton. Students joined together around 6:15 Friday for a vigil on the spot where their wrestling teammate Ben Richards collapsed.

Prayers are going forward to bring him and the other students into good health.

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