School officials in Batesburg-Leesville will pay to ensure all student athletes can undergo advanced heart tests after the death of football player Lewis Simpkins in August at nearby River Bluff High School.
Lexington 3 educators are arranging for heart checks for 400 athletes following a plea from the parents of one, who urged Lexington School District 3 board members and fellow parents to get the check for teens as a life-saving precaution.
“A hidden condition is something a regular physical can’t detect,” said Michelle Peterson. Her 16-year-old son plays football and baseball for Batesburg-Leesville High. And her husband spoke recently before the school board.
“We want to make sure everybody is aware of this,” she said.
A screening a few weeks ago discovered her son has a heart thicker than normal, she said. But he has been cleared to continue playing with orders to avoid overexertion and to drink plenty of liquids.
Follow-up tests are planned to make sure nothing was missed in the first check, she said.
Even though her son has been given the go-ahead to play, “as his mother, I’m always going to be leery,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s husband, Greg, urged school board members two weeks ago to develop a plan for the tests in light of what he learned about his son and what happened to Simpkins, who was 14, during football practice.
Tests taken after Simpkins’ death determined he died from a pre-existing heart condition exacerbated by heat.
It’s a lesson taken to heart by Lexington 3 officials, who consulted with medical experts and coaches.
The test being planned is an echocardiogram, essentially an ultrasound of the heart.
It’s considered “the gold standard” of heart safety for student athletes, Lexington 3 spokeswoman Judy Turner-Fox said.
It’s not required by the South Carolina High School Football League, which governs high school sports, as a part of student physicals.
But it’s recommended by the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute. The institute’s “best practices” recommendations for student-athlete health have been adopted by 16 states as well as the NCAA in 2003 after two heat-related deaths in one day. Since then, there has been one heat-related death in the first week of college football.
Simpkins was the third high school football player in South Carolina to die during football practices since 2010.
The test will not be required of Batesburg-Leesville students but will be encouraged, officials said. The decision is up to parents.
District officials decided the test’s $50 cost could be prohibitive for some families in the rural district. So they’re raising the money to make sure everyone who wants the test can get it.
A fundraising campaign for athletes in the seventh through 12th grades already has begun. The goal is to raise $20,000.
The test is not something that has to be done each year – students only have to be tested once. But with 400 athletes, and new ones coming in every year, the cost of the test will add up quickly.
Former pro football player Maurice Simpkins, who attended local schools, already donated $2,500, officials said. Officials don’t know if the two Simpkinses are related.
School officials plan to set aside money in the future for newcomers who need it, Turner-Fox said.
Superintendent Randall Gary’s 13-year-old daughter is a volleyball player who will be among those tested, officials said.
“After the loss of a student athlete in our neighboring district ... and hearing the testimony of one our own parents, we knew this was something we needed to provide for our students,” Gary said.
Plans calls for screenings to take place at Lexington 3 schools Oct. 5 and 6 in cooperation with Providence Hospital.
Lexington 1 officials on Friday applauded Lexington 3’s decision and said they continue to weigh similar tests for athletes at River Bluff and their other four high schools.
The 3,400 middle and high school student athletes in Lexington 1 is a much larger group than Lexington 3’s enrollment of 2,100.
“Our district is in the preliminary stages of a conversation about options for providing a comprehensive screening program for our student athletes,” Lexington 1 spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
Tax-deductible donations are being accepted to help pay for advanced cardiac tests of Lexington 3 student athletes.
For details, go to www.heartofapanther.org.