In Tipton, Missouri, high school football is the highlight of an autumn Friday night. Fans pack the stands and even spill out into the parking lots as they gather to root for the Tipton Cardinals. Last Halloween, the Cardinals were playing a rival team, Sacred Heart. It was a playoff game, and they had lost their season opener to Sacred Heart in a poor showing of 39-0. Chad Stover, a 16-year-old defensive back for the Cardinals, had high hopes that his team would “click” that night and make it to the championship game. Towards the very beginning of the game Chad suffered a devastating helmet-to-helmet hit. The cracking sound of the collision could be heard loudly throughout the stands. Chad jumped right back up after the play, and told his coach he was fine. Some teammates said that he appeared normal through the rest of the first half, while others reported that he was acting strangely.
In the final quarter, with seven minutes left on the clock the Cardinals were ahead 27-18. Fighting hard to keep the Cardinals’ lead, Chad tackled the ball carrier aiming right for his legs. His head collided with the player’s thighs and then struck the ground. Those who witnessed the play say that the hit was minor. Again Chad jumped up, but he was shaky on his feet this time. Twice he told his coach that he was fine and wanted to be put back in the game. As he huddled up for the next play, he turned to a teammate and said “something’s wrong” just as he collapsed to the ground. His parents rushed the field along with other parents who happened to be medical professionals. The fire department responded and an ambulance arrived shortly after. Chad was airlifted to a shock trauma unit and put on life support. Over the next two weeks he slowly declined further and further. The town rallied around him, held nine nights of consecutive prayer, and tied red ribbons on nearly every tree in town. On November 14, 2013, he passed away with is family by his side. His official cause of death was blunt-force injury to the cranium. The autopsy report noted that the amount he hemorrhaged was “more usually seen in high-speed motor vehicle accidents with unrestrained occupants.”
Chad’s story reignited a question that has been posed to many pro football players, would you let your son play football? In 2013, eight people died playing football, but in the 2013-2014 season not one single person died from any other high school sport. For a discussion on how Chad’s story has impacted traumatic brain injury awareness in high school sports, please check back for next week’s blog.