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Morgan football player died of heat stroke, autopsy shows

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Autopsy results showing that Morgan State University football player Marquese Meadow died of heat stroke have prompted his mother to question whether coaches and trainers monitored the heat at practice or gave players enough water breaks.

Meadow, an 18-year-old freshman from Washington, D.C., died early Sunday after being hospitalized for two weeks. School officials said he became disoriented after an Aug. 10 football practice. His death has been ruled accidental, said Bruce Goldfarb, spokesman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

His mother, Benita Meadow, said Morgan State hasn't been able to provide her with details of her son's last practice. She said he did not awake from a coma after being admitted.

"I'd just like to know what happened on that day and how it got to this point and how I don't have my son anymore," she said.

Morgan State spokesman Clint Coleman said hydration was stressed during football team practices, but he said many circumstances on the day Meadow collapsed are still unclear, including the number of water breaks taken and trainers on the field.

"The university believes that everything that could have been done at that time was done," Coleman said. "The facts will reveal themselves. … Our heartfelt sympathy goes to the family of Mr. Meadow."

The death of the healthy 6-foot-2, 300-pound freshman was the second heat stroke death of a college athlete since 2003, according to the University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute, named after an NFL player who died of heat stroke in 2001.

The NCAA implemented heat acclimatization guidelines in 2003 that called for vigilant monitoring of weather conditions and several safety measures to keep practices and competitions safe.

William C. McCaskill, an attorney for Benita Meadow, said the university should be more forthcoming about what Marquese Meadow was asked to do during his last practice.

"I would have thought Morgan would have jumped in and said something by now," McCaskill said. "Nothing. Not even basic details. … They're not giving Mrs. Meadow any information."

Meadow had no pre-existing medical conditions, McCaskill said. State toxicology tests came back negative for anything that might have contributed to Meadow's death, Goldfarb said.

Heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses occur when the body can't keep itself cool, something that normally occurs when sweat evaporates from the skin, lowering body temperature.

But high humidity can prevent sweat from evaporating fast enough and cause body temperature to rise. Heat stroke occurs when body temperature rises too quickly, to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes.

According to the National Weather Service, Aug. 10 was one of the month's hottest days, with a high of 86 degrees reported at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Conditions were partly cloudy with relatively low humidity and no rain.

McCaskill said Meadow's last practice took place on a Sunday after six straight days of practice. Benita Meadow said her son had told her that the team did not typically practice on Sundays and that Aug. 10 was an unplanned training event.

"How long were those boys out there?" McCaskill said. "How hard were they pushing those young men? What precautions were they taking to make sure these boys were properly hydrated? At first sign of distress, what did they do?"

In a statement, university officials said, "Marquese fell ill during one of the team's workout sessions two weeks ago."

"All I can tell you is that everyone in athletics tells me that there's plenty of water out there," Coleman said. "How many each individual player drank, I can't tell you. But there's water available."

Meadow was raised in Northeast Washington. He attended Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school, and selected Morgan State University to play football because a family member was an alum and because he had relatives in Baltimore.

Raised by a single mother, he thought of himself as "the man of the house" and did not want to be too far from his mom and sister, Benita Meadow said.

He had played football for 10 years and dreamed of an NFL career, but he also was realistic and made fall-back plans, she said. He debated whether to study engineering, mass communications or business management, all of which interested him, she said. As a freshman, he did not have to make that choice until later in his collegiate career.

"Just getting to the point of getting a scholarship and being able to play at Morgan was a huge accomplishment to him," Benita Meadow said, adding that he was recruited by other colleges.

Known by his nickname, "Skinny Fatz," he had made a strong impression on his college teammates, Morgan officials said in a statement. The school described him as an unselfish and "affable young man" off the field but also a "fierce competitor." Coach Lee Hull said he was confident Meadow was going to be a great collegiate player.

"He had a bright future beyond football, and I'm deeply saddened to see such a promising life cut short," Hull said.

Morgan State urged those sending tributes or well wishes through social media to use hashtag #MSUMarquese90. Classes started Monday on the Baltimore campus. The Morgan State Bears are scheduled to play their first game against Eastern Michigan University on Saturday.

According to the 2013-2014 NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook, a manual athletic directors and trainers follow at college programs across the country, "exertional heatstroke is the third-leading cause of on-the-field sudden death in athletes." Ninety six percent of all heat illnesses in football happen in August, the handbook said.

The manual called for all athletes to undergo a medical exam that includes disclosure of each student's history of previous heat illnesses. The NCAA recommended gradually increased exposure to hot or humid conditions for a minimum of 10 days to two weeks until the exercise is comparable to what happens in a game or competition.

Because football helmets, pads and jerseys increase heat stress by inhibiting the dissipation of heat, "frequent rest periods should be scheduled," the handbook said.

Student athletes should drink two cups or more of water or sports drinks an hour before practice and hydrate again at least every 15 to 20 minutes. Weights of the players should be recorded regularly so dehydration can be tracked, and student athletes should be educated on the signs of oncoming heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which include weakness, cramping and confusion.

Among tips the manual recommended: Do warm-ups in the shade, wear light-colored clothing and schedule at least three-hour intervals between two-a-day football practices.

"These are guidelines that you're supposed to follow," said Robert Huggins, director of elite health and performance at the Korey Stringer Institute. "However, you can follow these guidelines to a T, but bad things can happen."

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, the number of heat-related sporting deaths at all ages has increased from 11 between 2000 and 2004 to 18 between 2005 and 2009.

"We are on track to surpass that quite a bit," said Huggins. He added that while awareness of heat-related illnesses on playing fields has increased, so too has the reporting of them.

Meadow's youth and good health makes his death harder to comprehend, his mother said. As she makes funeral arrangements, she said she thinks about the last time she spoke to her son — just a day before the fatal last practice.

She and her daughter had driven to visit him on campus. They chit-chatted and said goodbyes with hugs and "love yous," she said.

"He was going to go lay down because he had practice that evening," she said.

She left him with a care package before she drove back to Washington. It included his favorite fruit snacks, bottles of water and Gatorade.

Baltimore Sun reporters Ed Lee and Scott Dance contributed to this article.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justingeorge

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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