Two years ago, Gavin Class nearly died of heat stroke while practicing with Towson's football team. On Thursday, he filed suit against the university to let him play again.
Earlier this month, Towson informed Class, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound lineman who has spent 15 months working himself into shape, that he would not be allowed to rejoin the team for his junior year.
"The sports medicine professionals [at Towson] believe that the risk of serious injury or death as a result of another heat stroke is too great to clear Mr. Class to play," Traevena Byrd, the school's general counsel, wrote to Class' attorney. "While [he] has made admirable strides in his recovery, he is unable to return to playing football safely and ... no reasonable accomodation can be made to adequately protect him from potentially devastating health effects."
Class, 22, declined comment on the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The suit alleges disability discrimination by Towson. Neither Byrd nor Andrew Dansicker, Class' attorney, returned telephone calls.
In August 2013, Class collapsed during the Tigers' practice. His body temperature rose to 108 degrees. His heart stopped briefly and his liver failed, requiring a six-hour organ transplant and 13 related operations at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Now recovered, the St. Paul's alumnus works out daily at a Cockeysville fitness center, having regained half of the 100 pounds he'd lost. Prior to the incident, Class set a Towson record for offensive linemen by bench-pressing 440 pounds. He's now up to 365.
His parents embrace their son's efforts to become the first liver transplant patient to compete in a contact sport.
"It's ridiculous to have to go to court to settle this after all Gavin has been through, and all he has done to come back," said his father, Jon Class. "He's very frustrated. He still lifts weights with the team, in their voluntary summer workouts, but they won't let him go outside and do anything strenuous now that it has gotten hot."
Jon Class said he believes Towson's decision is based on the premise that "a person who suffers heat stroke cannot return to normal function, which isn't true. They've taken away Gavin's lifelong dream, basing it on fear rather than fact."
Since 2003, when the NCAA set heat acclimitization guidelines, two college football players have succumbed to heat stroke, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. One of them, Marquese Meadow, a 300-pound freshman at Morgan State, died in August 2014.
Class' heatstroke triggered changes in Towson's football regimen. Practices now include more rest periods and players run sprints bare-headed. After workouts, they must sit in cold tubs for 7 to 10 minutes and then drink Slushies.
Meanwhile, some colleges are considering a high-tech procedure, used by the military and NFL teams, in which players swallow a "thermometer pill" before practice that allows trainers to read their body temperatures.
"We have the ability to monitor players' core temperatures at all times, but it's cutting edge and ridiculously expensive," Towson football coach Rob Ambrose told The Baltimore Sun last year. "We're trying to figure out how to fund it."
The Daily Record first reported the lawsuit had been filed.