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The Boy Who Died of Football
Thomas Lake
December 06, 2010
Three days after he collapsed from heatstroke at practice in 2008, 15-year-old Max Gilpin became one of at least 665 boys since 1931 to die as a result of high school football. Here's what made his case different: The Commonwealth of Kentucky tried to prove Max's coach had a hand in killing him
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December 06, 2010

The Boy Who Died Of Football

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At the trial, one of Stinson's own witnesses said Max leaned over and breathed heavily after the running. Another defense witness said Max fell and beat the ground in anger. Other players said Max couldn't even finish the running and had to be propped up. One of them said he returned from the final sprint to find Max on his hands and knees. Soon after that, he said, Max appeared to be foaming at the mouth, and his face was pale blue. But in the civil deposition, Stinson gave this account:

STINSON: Yes, sir. He had finished conditioning and was headed where he was needed to go.

PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: He really wasn't in any distress as far as you could see?

STINSON: As far as I could tell.

For a few minutes on that Wednesday, after school and before football practice, no one told Max Gilpin what to do. And what he did was a total surprise. He was walking to the bus with Chelsea Scott, the green-eyed cheerleader who became his girlfriend through sheer will and persistence, and he was wearing one of his favorite outfits: a pair of yellow plaid shorts and a butter-yellow Aeropostale T-shirt that nicely set off the tan of his arms. He may have done what he did because he knew she wanted it, but perhaps this one time he decided to do what he wanted, just because. Anyway, he bent down and hugged her, close enough to smell the vanilla in her Victoria's Secret perfume, and then he kissed her mouth, for at least two seconds, as if he knew exactly what he was doing. It was their first kiss, and of course their last: a glimmer of the man Max Gilpin was becoming.

Then he walked toward the locker room and returned to obedience. He never stopped obeying, not even at the hospital. He hung on for three days, never fully conscious, as his body fell apart from the inside. His best friend, Zach Deacon, told him, "Hang in there. Keep fighting. I love you." And Max kept fighting. His heart rate seemed to rise when people prayed. A nurse asked him to squeeze her hand, which he did, and said, "Max, if you can hear me, wiggle your toes." And he did.

Toward the end he had blood in his mouth and tears on his cheeks, and he finally got permission to quit. His mother whispered into his ear, "It's O.K., Max. You can let go." A minute later he was gone.

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