Slippery Rock, NCAA sued over sickle cell death

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Jack Hill, Jr.

by Joe Mandak
Associated Press Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The parents of a Slippery Rock University basketball player who died two years ago after collapsing during an intense practice have sued the school and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, saying their son wasn’t screened for the sickle cell trait that contributed to his death and school officials didn’t do enough to help him.

The lawsuit was filed late Friday by Jack and Cheryl Hill of Roselle, N.J., in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Their 21-year-old son, Jack Jr., died on Sept. 10, 2011, shortly after midnight.

The NCAA and Slippery Rock officials did not immediately return calls and emails Monday seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends the NCAA began screening Division I players for sickle cell in 2010 but didn’t require that of Division II player until 2012. Slippery Rock is a Division II school, whose coach held a nighttime “insanity practice” as punishment for the entire team, according to the lawsuit.

School officials gave Jack Hill Jr. a “pre-participation” medical exam in September 2010, when he first tried out for the team. He hadn’t played before the exam because the coaches believed he was “overweight and not in playing shape,” according to the lawsuit, which says Hill was 6 feet tall and 261 pounds at the time.

Hill wasn’t screened for sickle cell trait or sickle cell anemia, and he answered “no” when asked to fill out a form about whether he had either condition. Hill didn’t know he had sickle cell trait, according to the lawsuit, which could have been revealed with a blood test.

Sickle cells are malformed red blood cells with a crescent, or sickle, shape that more easily clog arteries and don’t carry oxygen as efficiently as normal cells, according to the National Institutes of Health. According to the lawsuit, the NCAA was aware that sickle cell trait-related complications “were the No. 1 cause of student-athlete deaths during the first decade of the 21st century.”

That’s why the NCAA mandated sickle cell screening for Division I athletes beginning in August 2010. Division II screenings were mandated starting in August 2012, and Division III schools had to start screening players last month, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit argues that Hill might have been excused from some of the more strenuous workouts had school officials known of his sickle cell trait, and that trainers and other school officials might also have responded differently and more effectively had they known of Hill’s condition.

The lawsuit contends CPR was performed only briefly and that a student couldn’t properly use an emergency defibrillator to revive Hill. Instead, he went into cardiac arrest and died at Grove City Medical Center.

The lawsuit was filed by the Philadelphia firm of Kline & Specter. A spokesman for the firm said Hill’s parents would not be commenting on the lawsuit, though one of the attorneys who filed it, Thomas Kline, planned to make a statement later Monday.

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