TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County Schools announced new safety guidelines for coaches and players and it's named in honor of Hezekiah Walters.
The required training for coaches and players is known as the Hezekiah Walters Sports Medication Educational Plan on Hydration and Heat Illness.
Here are a couple of things on the new safety plan:
- The district will now require training for all football staff about the dangers of heat-related illnesses
- All high schools will now have at least one cold immersion tub for emergencies
- All high schools will still have certified athletic trainers on campuses
Because of COVID-19, conditioning and practices will be limited to 20 people for now so staff can keep a better eye on the players.
“What transpired on that day, they didn’t have certain things in place and because those things weren’t in place, and the heat index was so high, it was a hundred and something out there. That’s what happened to Hezekiah. He didn’t get the attention that a coach should have given him and he should have never been out there in the first place doing those drills,” said Hezekiah’s father Felix Walters.
The Walters’ family is remembering their son with pride about the legacy he’s now leaving behind to protect others. But there is also still a lot of sadness.
“Words cannot express to you all the emptiness I feel on the inside,” said Felix Walters.
Hezekiah had never played organized football before, and it was just his second practice at Middleton High School.
According to police, Walters, 14, collapsed during football conditioning drills at Middleton High School in 2019. He died less than an hour later. Police say the teenager collapsed when the team was 30 to 40 minutes into conditioning drills, which included weightlifting, wind sprints and water breaks.
An investigation found the coaching staff did not follow safety protocols. Middleton’s coach was transferred, and the assistant principal was demoted.
“It is our goal for everything in their powers to more families and educators like myself to be in place and so that it never happens again,” said Phyllis Thompson Walters, Hezekiah's mother. “We put some measures in place. And we put some protocols in place. Now a lot of us got some hard work to do and we’ve been working hard. It’s going to just frame us to work even harder,” said Phyllis Thomspon Walters.
This press conference comes on the heels of the school board approving a $1 million settlement for his family.
Earlier this week, the Florida High School Athletic Association approved a policy change that basically changed recommendations into mandates. It includes a tiered system based on "the ambient temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle, and cloud cover at the site of the athletic activity."
Depending on those factors, the practice can go on as usual, get canceled completely or mandate a certain amount of breaks.
The policy also mandates "cooling zones" with cold-water immersion tubs or something similar along with a certified athletic trainer who knows how to employ that technique.
This aligns with the Zachary Martin Act in the Senate, which would make those requirements a statewide mandate instead of just the almost 800 schools the FHSAA governs. Zachary died from a heat stroke at football practice back in 2017.
A bill to ensure certified trainers are up to date with their training is on the Governor's desk right now.