A U.S. District judge said Tuesday that he expects to issue a ruling this week to determine if Gavin Class can play football for Towson University.
Judge Richard D. Bennett heard arguments, pro and con, for six hours in a permanent injunction hearing that pits Class, a 6-foot-4, 255 pound junior who suffered a near-fatal case of heat stroke in August 2013, against the college, which insists he cannot safely play football for Towson. Class filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against Towson in May.
"The facts are pretty much not in dispute," said Bennett, a former athlete himself who interrupted attorneys to ask questions of several defense witnesses called by Towson.
It has been nearly two years since Class collapsed during team practice. His temperature soared to more than 108 degrees and several organs failed, including his liver. He received a transplant at University of Maryland Medical Center. Since then, the 22-year-old lineman has worked back into shape in an effort to become the first football player ever to bounce back from both heat stroke and a liver transplant.
Witnesses for Class said his recovery was such that, with the proper accommodations, the St. Paul's School graduate would be less likely than teammates to suffer heat stroke again. A key element would be having him swallow a "thermometer pill" before practice each day and have a member of Towson's staff wave a high-tech wand over his abdomen for three to four seconds, every five to 10 minutes during workouts. The monitor would register Class' body temperature.
Class' family has offered to pay the cost of the equipment ($40 per pill and $500 to rent the machine) and the trainer for the first two weeks of practice, which begins Aug. 9.
"Using this system, Gavin would be the safest person on the field," said Dr. Douglas Casa, director of the Korey Stringer Institute in Connecticut, a leader in heat stroke treatment for both athletes and the military.
Towson officials argued that the daily test of Class' core temperature would be beyond the expertise of the university's football trainers, and would strain their work load.
"It's my understanding that we would" need to add staff to accommodate Class, athletic director Tim Leonard said.
Bennett asked how monitoring Class' temperature would be different from checking the blood sugar of diabetic players during practice, which Towson routinely does.
"I think that's beyond [the trainers'] scope," said Dr. Kari Kindschi, the Tigers' team physician.
Among the 20 people in the courtroom were five of Class' teammates, one wearing a T-shirt that read, on the back, GC 66, Class' initials and number, and the word DETERMINATION.
Afterward, Jon Class, Gavin's father, said, "We'll leave it up to God and the judge."
Bennett played football at Severn, where he was the school's Scholar Athlete in 1965. He also played lacrosse and competed in alumni games until 1997, when he suffered three cracked ribs while playing.
"It definitely seemed like [Bennett] wanted to work with me and hear me out," Gavin Class said.