Gavin Class, Towson head to federal appeals court

Last week, as his college football team practiced for its second game, a lone figure in a sweat-soaked Towson T-shirt lifted weights in a Cockeysville gym. Gavin Class wanted to be elsewhere.

"I'd hoped to be with the team," the senior lineman said.


In the two years since he suffered heat stroke during football practice and nearly died, Class has been driven by one goal: to get back in the game. The desire to suit up again for the Tigers carried him through 14 related surgeries and a six-hour liver transplant. So did the support the Monkton native received from coaches and players.

Towson rallied around Class, a projected starter at offensive guard. Coaches sat by his hospital bedside. Teammates wore stickers with his number (66) on their helmets and, before practice, touched his jersey hanging by the locker room door. In 2013, he received a Tiger Award for best exemplifying the characteristics of a Towson football player, and coach Rob Ambrose spoke of creating an annual Gavin Class Determination Award.


"Will Gavin come back? I believe he will," Ambrose said last year. "If for no other reason than to put his helmet on one more time, for one more play."

That might not happen. In May, Towson officials barred Class from playing, citing the risk of serious injury. Class then filed suit against the university in U.S. District Court and won. Towson appealed. On Wednesday, both sides will plead their case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Class, school officials cleaned out his locker and stuffed his gear in a gray trash bag.

"That shocked me," said Class, who has since recouped his belongings. "We've hit a lot of obstacles but I can't get discouraged. I turn to God every day and ask for his guidance. It's when you start to doubt, that bad things can happen. I mean, I was never negative in the hospital and look where I am now."

At 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds, he weighs 60 pounds less than before the accident. But Class who, before his injury, set a Towson record for offensive linemen by bench-pressing 440 pounds, has been cleared to play by his doctors at University of Maryland Medical Center and experts at the Korey Stringer Institute in Connecticut, a leader in heatstroke treatment for athletes and the place Towson sent him for testing.

Following his victory in District Court in July, just before training camp, Class sought out his coach for a meeting. Their discourse in Ambrose's office was cordial, he said.

"I asked what I should do about camp, and coach said he'd check with 'the people above' and get back to me," Class recalled. "All summer I'd been allowed in the locker and weight rooms. He (Ambrose) said 'There will always be a spot for you on the team.' Then we shook hands and I left."

The next day, Class said, his attorney received an email from Kathleen Wherthey, a university lawyer, stating that he had made untoward demands.

"Gavin has tried to access the team locker room, and complained to the coach that he is going to win the motion and he wants to have his locker," Wherthey wrote. "Further, Gavin reportedly said that he wants team-issued equipment … Therefore, we ask you to advise your client to refrain from making such demands."

Soon after, Class' possessions were cleared out, as he learned from a photo taken by a friend.

Neither Ambrose nor Tim Leonard, Towson's athletic director, would discuss Class' case.

"Towson University's decision in this case was based on our team physician's professional judgment that Mr. Class cannot play contact football without endangering his life," said Ray Feldmann, a university spokesman."However, this case is not just about ensuring Mr. Class' safety.It is about ensuring the safety of current and future college and university athletes by allowing team physicians, in the exercise of their professional judgment, to determine who may safely play and who cannot."


Class, 22, said he has offered to sign waivers for Towson that say "we won't blame you guys for anything" if he is seriously injured playing football.

Meanwhile, he attends classes and works out daily while waiting for the court's decision. He plans to graduate in May with a degree in exercise science and become a strength and conditioning coach. A two-sport star at St. Paul's, he now helps its lacrosse team with offseason training and has begun work as a bouncer at an upscale Fells Point Bar.

"If I can't play football, I've got to do something," he said.

Off campus, he shares a house with linebacker Vince DePaola (Hereford) and hangs out with Towson players, six of whom have appeared with him in court to show support. On Labor Day, he hosted a cookout for teammates at his family's home.

"They're upset. They say this sucks, but there's nothing I can do. It's out of my hands," Class said.

He kept his locker tag, which reads "Gavin Class 66 Towson Football" in hopes of playing again. If not, he said, he's determined to see his court case to the end.

"I'm in it for the long haul," Class said. "Even if there's no effect on me, there could be other kids with heatstroke in the same situation — and I don't want them to have to go through this process."


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