It's that time of year again: when America's high schoolers start dropping dead during football practice. It's become so regular and so common that we can't do anything but shake our heads and move on, as if this is an acceptable rite of passage for youth football as a whole. But these are actual kids, with names and families and futures. Here's what has happened in just the last few days:
• Last Monday, a 16-year-old center at Locust Grove High School (Ga.) passed out while leaving the field after practice. Forrest Jones fell, got up, then fell again, hitting his head. He spent a week in a coma, his kidneys and liver not functioning. He died last night.
• Last Tuesday, 17-year-old lineman Isaiah Laurencin started cramping and went into cardiac arrest after practice for Miramar High School (Fla.). He died at the hospital, surrounded by teammates who had come to say goodbye.
• On Saturday, incoming freshman Tyquan Brantley collapsed after the second day of practice for Lamar High School (SC.). The 14-year-old had been complaining of cramps as he left the field and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
• Yesterday, 16-year-old Donteria Searcy seemed fine after practice for Fitzgerald High School (Ga.). He was later found unresponsive in his cabin and pronounced dead.
It's easy to write them off as statistics: once autopsies are completed on the boys, they'll be filed with the hundreds of young dead who came before them. Maybe it'll be a congenital condition, like sickle cell trait or cardiac dysrhythmia, something unforeseeable. Or maybe it'll be the most foreseeable thing in the world: out-of-shape teenagers push themselves to the limit in 100-degree heat.
Football's a cold-weather sport for a reason: the temperatures are more conducive to human bodies doing things they weren't designed to do. But just as chilly autumn Fridays and snowy January fields are iconic settings for the game, sweltering August practices are inextricable from the football calendar. But does it have to be this way? If you wouldn't want kids playing in dangerous conditions, why is it OK to make them practice in it, going longer and harder than in real games? Just so they can finish the season before winter break?
The South's football calendar needs to shift (and it's almost always the South, for obvious reasons). But it won't. Because just as everyone gets up in arms over these deaths and make grand proclamations about how things need to change, the weather turns cooler and players stop dying and we forget all about it. That's as sure a thing as more kids dying next year.