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Youth sports are no longer just about two kids going outside to play catch or shoot some hoops. In some respects, they are as structured and competitive as the professional and college levels. Regardless, no outlet of competitive sports in the U.S. is changing as rapidly as those at the youth and scholastic level. Many of my posts on this blog will examine issues that these changes have brought to light.

This blog is more than just a news source; it is a forum for an exchange of ideas and perspectives on the state and direction of youth sports, both locally and beyond. We can talk here about how the pursuit of college scholarships has dramatically altered the youth sports experience, or how opportunities for children to play sports have expanded at a startling rate, or how physically, children are handling their developing bodies while trying to excel at a sport.

Many of these issues are polarizing, pitting old school ideals versus the contemporary, but no matter your position, they are critical to the future of sports in the U.S.

One type of story I'm keeping my eye on is a story that bears watching for its potential impact not only on high school football, but, to a lesser degree, all high school sports nationwide. Opening arguments began today in the case against David Jason Stinson, the former head football coach at Pleasure Ridge Park High in suburban Louisville, Ky.. Stinson is charged in the death of one of his players, who collapsed during a practice last summer.

In August 2008, Max Gilpin, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound 15-year-old sophomore offensive lineman, collapsed while doing sprints at the end of a three-hour practice in 94-degree heat. He was the second of two Pleasure Ridge Park players to go down during those sprints, typical of many high school football practices across the country. Within the hour, Gilpin was rushed to the hospital, where authorities said he had a body temperature of 107 degrees. He died three days later of septic shock, multiple organ failure and complications from heat stroke. Stinson was charged last January with reckless homicide, and last month, and, was also charged with wanton endangerment. The coroner recently ruled Gilpin’s death an accident.

This is a horrible case, no matter the perspective. We, in the Washington area, experienced a similar case two years ago when Stafford linemen Joey Roberson collapsed and died during a preseason practice, though no charges were ever filed. Colleague Josh Barr's feature in the wake of Roberson's death is a fascinating read.

What intrigues me the most, though, about the Stinson case is the precedent that could be set here. There is a macho, tough-guy persona attached to football that both coaches and players embrace. Peer pressure often makes teenagers reluctant to say they are too worn down to continue while the rest of their teammates continue at their coaches’ orders. If Stinson is convicted, then everyone would re-think that attitude.

Furthermore, if Stinson is found liable in Gilpin’s death, will that prompt school districts to conduct more thorough examinations of athletes before the start of a season? A few years ago, I did a story on the preseason physical examinations required of high school athletes, and was surprised to see how generally routine they appear to be. While sprints in the summer heat may only be limited to preseason practice for fall sports, every sport has challenging drills designed to increase players’ stamina. Will the threat of liability for a player’s death – or even catastrophic injury – force schools to seek out any and all possible pre-existing conditions for every player prior to every season? Let’s say a student was unaware he or she had a pre-existing heart condition, and suffered cardiac arrest during a drill. A conviction of Stinson here would imply that coaches could be liable for inducing cardiac arrest.

I’m interested to hear your opinion on this case. Post a reply in the comments section, or feel free to shoot me an email. I’ll highlight some of most thoughtful responses later today or tomorrow morning.

By Alan Goldenbach  |  September 3, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  National issues  
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