As Darton State College prepared for a Thursday evening memorial service for a wrestler who died Sept. 13 nine days after collapsing during a five-mile run, the Albany, Ga. school’s athletic director is not assigning any blame, the Albany Herald reported Thursday.
“I don’t think this is a situation where you can point blame,” said Mike Kiefer, Darton State athletic director. “I don’t think it is. It’s an unfortunate tragedy that causes you to reflect and look at a lot of things.
“The concern is that when you have a situation like this, the concern is to look at it and try to figure out how and why. I think anytime you have this type of tragedy that there is concern. It causes you to look at it really closely.”
Kiefer said the school continues to investigate the situation in which a total of three wrestlers were hospitalized after two separate incidents Sept. 3 and 4. One of the wrestlers, 20-year-old Ben Richards of Tampa, died two weeks ago from liver and kidney failure in a Gainesville, Fla. hospital where he had been airlifted earlier that week.
Kiefer also said that he and a number of wrestlers attended Richards’ funeral last Saturday in Tampa. The athletic director said he spoke with Ben’s father Chuck Richards.
To allow the Darton State community an opportunity to honor Richards, the school held an on-campus service Thursday evening, which concluded with a candlelight vigil. The service was led by staff members from Greenbriar Church in Albany, where Richards went while in school.
AD discloses new details
One day before Richards collapsed during a five-mile team run, teammate Alex Washington collapsed with a heat-related illness. However, according to Kiefer, Washington’s illness “didn’t raise any red flags,” saying it appeared to be an isolated problem, in that his teammates had little trouble with the workout.
“On the first day, the first student-athlete that fell out was only a mile into the workout, and that day the team started running outside and there was lightning in the area and had to move indoors to finish their workout,” Kiefer said. “No one else to my knowledge showed any signs on that first day of anything, so that’s why it didn’t raise a major alarm to go out and continue on the second day.”
After collapsing, Washington was taken to a local hospital where he stayed for several days, but has since been released.
Kiefer added that the wrestlers were wearing shorts and T-shirts during their five-mile runs. In addition, he said that Darton had a heat-safety policy; however, the school has taken extensive steps to review that policy and is introducing educational and preventative measures.
“A lot of what we are looking to do is very much educational in nature because from talking with our student-athletes the awareness of heat-related illnesses is not as high as it should be,” Kiefer said. “So we are taking measures to make people aware of this.”
Despite tragedy, team will continue
Kiefer said the wrestling roster has stayed intact in the wake of the tragedy and that the team will still compete this season.
“We are trying to move forward with practices in anticipation of the season,” he said. “It is going to be a hard season, but the team is going to honor and remember Ben and go out there and compete to the best of their abilities.”
“Any time you lose a student-athlete, it’s a tough situation,” Kiefer continued. “The team spends so much time together that you have that bond as a teammate and a friend. He was a good team leader with good character. He was just one of those guys people look up to and gravitate to.”
Founded in 1963 as Albany Junior College, Darton State College recently became a four-year state school. The 5,900-student school, located in southwestern Georgia, launched its wrestling program in 2007. The head wrestling coach is James Hicks, who took the helm of the Cavaliers mat program in 2012.
Want to know more about the tragedy as it unfolded? Check out College Wrestling Examiner’s stories on the hospitalized Darton State wrestlers.
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