Former high school football player sues Highlands School District over head injuries
Friday, April 08, 2011, By Vivian Nereim, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A former high school football player who still struggles with symptoms of brain trauma sued the Highlands School District Thursday in U.S. District Court, alleging that his coach and trainer improperly sent him back into games after violent, damaging collisions.
Zachary Alt, 19, of Fawn, also claims in the lawsuit that school administrators shuffled him through classes after a particularly severe head injury, allowing him to graduate though he was barely able to do schoolwork.
"It has been a nightmare, to say the least," said his mother, Megan Alt, at a news conference Thursday. "It has changed my whole family."
In a written statement, school district officials declined to comment, saying they had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.
"When the lawsuit is presented, the district solicitor, Mr. Ira Weiss, will respond through the court system," said spokeswoman Misty Chybrzynski.
The issue of young football players sustaining head injuries -- particularly concussions -- has gained traction across the state recently, spurring legislative bills and awareness campaigns.
At least two Western Pennsylvania boys have received fatal concussions during high school football practices during the last six years.
Mr. Alt's head injuries were life-altering, his mother said. Since a helmet-to-helmet collision with a linebacker in 2007, the young man has experienced hot flashes, depression, insomnia, nausea, dry heaves and vomiting, she said.
"I don't want to stop football..." Ms. Alt said. "But I do want to stop this from happening to other kids. He's never going to be the same again."
Mr. Alt sat silently through the news conference, his face somber. His lawyer, Robert Peirce III, said the young man's mother would speak on his behalf.
Ms. Alt said her son began playing football at age 8, and later joined the varsity team at Highlands High School, often playing fullback despite his smaller size.
"He really was known as being tough as nails..." Mr. Peirce said. "He was proud that he was able to do it."
The injuries the lawsuit details stem from the fall 2007 season, when Mr. Alt was a 15-year-old sophomore.
According to the legal complaint, he sustained a serious hit to the head during an Oct. 12 game, but continued to play. He was not evaluated by staff, his lawyer claimed. The same thing happened Nov. 2, according to the complaint.
Then, Nov. 9, during a playoff game against Knoch High School, Mr. Alt collided with another player helmet-to-helmet.
"Clearly disoriented," Mr. Alt jogged off laboriously, then began to "aimlessly" walk on the sidelines, the complaint alleges.
Mr. Alt was not removed from the game, despite teammates' worries, according to the complaint. Instead, he was instructed to go after the opposing team's middle linebacker, the complaint claims.
"He went to make the block, went as hard as he could, and that's the last thing he remembers," Mr. Peirce said.
After the game, Ms. Alt took her son to the emergency room at the Alle-Kiski Medical Center, where staff diagnosed a substantial head injury, according to the complaint.
Throughout the year, the boy's schoolwork and attendance declined, his mother said. But despite missing much of the spring semester, he received nearly straight A's that year, the complaint claims. He eventually graduated.
Mr. Alt's lawsuit also names the school's principal, assistant principal, football coach athletic trainer as defendants.
The suit was filed federally because Mr. Alt's lawyers believe the school's actions violated his constitutional right to an education, they said. The complaint seeks damages in excess of $75,000, the standard for federal court.
"He is unable to work an eight-hour day." Mr. Peirce said of his client.
"He tries to work," Mr. Peirce added. "His mother is an operator with a local cleaning business. He tries to clean when he can. Other times he will clean a local office building and will have to lie down after an hour."
Ms. Alt's younger son, a student in the same district, has since asked to play football, she said. She refused.
Vivian Nereim: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1413. Staff writer Malak Shaher contributed.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11098/1137891-455.stm#ixzz1Ivj6FPCN
Zachary, I hope you have a good day today, and every day. I expect that that wish is not possible, but your care and health are a worry.
Most of all, I wish that Z and his family do not suffer any other pains and harm that stems from anything else in the community about this 'whistleblower' acts that are now stepping forward in the courts. The court case is going to take a life of its own and it might be a monumental or else trivial set of events. I'd hate to see more hardships heaped upon the situation from any party from coaches, trainers, medical folks, peers, district, community and media. The politics might make this football a hard one to handle. Many will try to get this to go away and 'drop the case.'
Marty Griffin of KDKA radio had a show segment devoted to this case yesterday. I posted a reply to his question, "Would you let your son play football?" Marty has a gimpy knee due to his 'playing days' at Central Catholic. He is reminded of that often. My two sons won't play football. Perhaps when they are in college and out from under my roof, that might be an option. But not before then, I'm certain.
Football is the worst. But soccer, with the plays of the ball off of the head, is also very bad. If that element of the game could be removed from soccer, then they might be permitted to play that sport.
I am not ready to launch a crusade against football, just yet. But, it is something to keep under consideration. Too much good comes from the sports experience to remove it fully as an option. Who am I to say that others can't do this or that -- like play football. I won't lead that charge. I'm too much of a libertarian to think I know what's best for others. If there are others that want to play, coach and watch football, and I'm a big fan at times, then so be it.
I don't have any need to see the sport expand, however. I was sad when Robert Morris and Duquesne University put football into their athletic departments. As they put 80 or so guys into football pads, they take the spots that other Olympic sports players could have. The Title IX reality means football is bad news. Since DU offered football, it was able to cut baseball, wrestling and men's swimming. That's 'wrongheaded.'
Remember boxing? These days you need to be someone like Wayne Fontana, D, to support it. One day football will be as popular as boxing is today. And sadly, there won't be heros in this struggle.
In sports, you win by addition. If any victory can occur, in this long trend, it will come with water polo, cycling, ultimate (Frisbee), golf, lifesaving, kayaking, and the grad-daddy of them all, rugby 7s. Toss in eco races as well.
They don't play American Football, or "gridiron" in Australia and New Zealand, for example. It isn't missed. It is played in some instances, but it is a minor sport. That's fine. That might be its destiny here too, even in western Pennsylvania.
I have no problem with a high school not offering football, as is the case at Vincentian High School.
Schenley High School, set to close as part of Pittsburgh Public Schools, as well as Peabody High School, had football teams. Now that those schools are closing, they won't have football teams come 2011, of course. New to the scene will be a football team at U-Prep. (U-Prep is part of PPS and is to have grades 6-12.) There won't be a team at Pgh Obama, 6-12. But those students, as well as the ones at Sci-Tech will play with the U-Prep football team.
With the low number of boys slated for Pittsburgh Westinghouse, I expect it will be nearly impossible to field a team there in the fall of 2011. Time will tell.
Langley football is a stretch too. There are so few kids at some of the schools.
I suggest we consider making a couple of "Football Factories." Put all the players into a couple of schools and then let the other schools pass on football. If you want to go to a school and play football, enroll at one of the few schools that offer the sport.