MCMINNVILLE, Ore. -- The number of high school athletes who experienced medical problems during a football camp in McMinnville has grown from seven to 31, with nine hospitalized, officials said Friday.
Jeff Kearin, the new head football coach, was running what he called a “total immersion” camp at the high school which involved the team staying overnight on the campus and attending three practices a day, including weight training
Wednesday afternoon, several students started experiencing major swelling in their arms and they were transported to Willamette Valley Medical Center.
Three underwent surgery for a condition called compartment syndrome, a buildup of fluids coupled with swelling. Four others were being monitored around the clock and may also need surgery, according to McMinnville School District Superintendent Maryalice Russell.
On Thursday, 24 additional students were tested after feeling ill. Authorities told KGW that those athletes were tested for high enzyme levels. Sixteen of them showed high-risk levels and were sent to the hospital. Three were admitted. A fourth student player underwent surgery.
One of the hospitalized was Jake Montgomery, who underwent a test to determine his level of the enzyme creatine kinase. He was told normal is about 200 to 1,000 and his was 35,000. He said the workouts imposed by the coach were not that strenuous.
Russell said Friday that the injuries did not appear to be the result of excessive workouts and that she looked forward to the fall season with a full roster.
She asked players and parents to come forward with any information about what they may have consumed in the last week. Several parents and players questioned by KGW said nothing out of the ordinary was consumed by players that they knew of.
Player parent Dennis Nice echoed that comment, calling the situation "confounding" but that "there's no blame here" and parents and the team are supportive.
Denise Montgomery, a parent of one of the hospitalized boys told KGW it's been a very scary experience. She said the high levels could potentially affect the her son's kidneys and liver or even cause renal failure.
"It's secretions that come from muscles that are in his body and it's affecting his kidneys and his liver," she explained. "They're trying to keep it from crystalizing in his kidneys."
But Montgomery too said she doesn't blame the coaches. She said the workouts should not have been too much for the kids to handle.
However, not everyone agrees.
"It's heart-breaking," injured player Greg Cordie told KGW from his hospital bed. "I love this game... He pushed us too hard, and here we are."
Cordie's parents and some others were outraged. Jim Cordie said he’s worried his son’s entire football career could now be ruined.
“This ain't the NFL, this ain't college. Stop bringing these college coaches in and pushing these kids so far. They're still growing. They're still kids. They just want to play for fun," he said.
"We're as concerned as they are," said Superintendent Russell. "I mean, there's no reason why we want any student to have to take a visit to the hospital as a result of what may happen in a football camp or any other camp for that matter."
Tom Welter, Executive Director for the Oregon School Activities Association, said he was certainly concerned about the McMinnville incident, but his organization had not launched an investigation because that would be up to the school district. "I've never experienced this in my 35 years, [with OSAA]" he told KGW.
Dr. Mick Koester is the chairman of the Oregon School Activities Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. He called the circumstances odd, and for now, difficult to determine what happened.
"I've been around athletics and sports for fairly long time," he said, "and haven't seen anything like this, or heard of something like this."
Koester said his concern was about other factors. "Are those kids taking a supplement?" There is no regulation on the use of protein powders or shakes, he said.
A meeting was held at the school Friday morning and the coaches said they were very confused by what happened and assured parents everything possible was being done to get to the root of the problem.
Despite all this, the football camp was not cancelled, but would end one day early, Russell said. It began on Sunday and had originally been scheduled to end on Saturday. The parents were given the option to pull their children from the camp, but all chose to stay.
As for the hospitalized students' rising medical bills, Russell said the district was considering whether to cover the costs. She also said that the district was considering whether any members of the coaching staff should be disciplined.
Kearin was just recently hired to lead McMinnville's football team. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, his last coaching job was for Los Angeles Loyola High School. He left that job in 2009 after five seasons and one Division I championship.
He told the McMinnville News-Register last spring that he left the job for personal reasons that included the death of both of his parents and a brother in a short time span. And then, his wife's mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Kearin had the support of both Oregon State Coach Mike Riley and former Linfield Coach Ad Rutschman, the paper reported.
Kearin coached one of the top high school football programs in the Los Angeles metro in Loyola High School. The program routinely sent players to Division I programs.
According to Adam Guerra who coached under Kearin and replaced him as interim coach, Kearin ran his “Football Immersion” program each of the five years he coached at Loyola without incident.
Guerra says every top high school program in California conducts the same type of program. It’s two-a-day practice with team overnight bonding in between.
Guerra said while at Loyola, Kearin had more a laid back style of coaching. He was “a player’s coach”. He operated with a “college coach mentality”.
According to Guerra, Kearin was well aware of the risks of overtraining. He was always conscious of using up a player during practice and having nothing left for the start of the season.
Because of its perennial success, Loyola was always watched closely by the media and top college scouts. Guerra said because of that scrutiny, Kearin closely adhered to all league rules and guidelines.
(KGW reporters Scott Burton, Amanda Burden, Pat Dooris and Chris Murphy contributed to this article.)