Johnny Tolbert III was just 12 years old when he collapsed during a football practice in South Fulton, Georgia, in July 2016. The temperature was 93 degrees at 7:30 p.m. with about 30 percent humidity.
With no ice available at the park to cool him down, he had wet towels waved at him until medical help arrived 20 minutes later, according to Howard Spence, attorney for Tolbert’s family.
Johnny died two weeks later of a heat stroke, prompting local and state officials to take a look at how youth football teams are run and what training coaches have in case a child has an emergency. The Georgia House of Representatives formed the Johnny Tolbert III House Study Commission on Heat-Related, Cardiac, and other Sports-Related Injuries.
Johnny’s mother, Michelle Wright, appeared before the committee this week, too upset to speak but thankful for the committee’s work in honor of her son.
Spence and his colleague, Mawuli Davis of the Davis Bozeman law firm, told the panel about how Johnny fell to his knees, foaming at the mouth. Johnny’s parents were at Welcome All Park where the practice was held when the incident happened and initially hired the attorneys out of fear they would be blamed, Spence told the panel.
According to Spence, the volunteer coaches weren’t prepared to deal with a player having a heatstroke and were not certified through Heads Up, a training program offered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“They just didn’t know what to do,” Spence said.
That’s not the case for high school football, said John Reid, athletic director of Rome City Schools. Reid said his team has a trainer, team doctor, hospital doctor and water trough. Coaches are certified in CPR and are educated on how to handle heat strokes and concussions.
“We need to make sure everyone has the things that I am lucky enough to have,” Reid told the panel.
Coaches should know who their players are and treat them like they would their own son or daughter, Reid said.
“Would you have your son or daughter do 10 sprints 40 yards long in 98-degree weather?” Reid asked the panel.
The study panel should look closely at all of the youth athletic associations that run programs, said South Fulton City Councilwoman Helen Willis.
“How do you regulate; how do you mandate these people that pretty much have the autonomy to do what they want to do?” Willis asked.
The panel will meet at Welcome All Park in South Fulton on Aug. 26 to continue their study.