A Joshua High School junior varsity football player died Friday afternoon at a Fort Worth hospital after suffering a seizure during a game against Cleburne on Thursday night.
Sophomore Aaron Singleton was stricken on the sidelines of Yellow Jacket Stadium shortly after leaving the game and taking a seat on the bench toward the end of the second quarter.
Cleburne school district athletic director Mark Walker said it was unclear what prompted the seizure.
“There wasn’t a major hit. There’s wasn’t anything major,” Walker said. “You could see the young man walked off the field. The young man came over and talked to their trainer and said he had a headache.”
Walker said Joshua’s student trainer did a protocol, preventing Singleton from returning to the game and alerting one of Cleburne’s adult trainers. The certified trainer then began assessing Singleton.
“The young man was OK, then he started having a seizure,” Walker said. “The second he had a seizure, we called 911.”
Singleton, 15, was pronounced dead at 2:48 p.m. Friday at Cook Children’s Medical Center, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. The teen’s cause and manner of death were pending.
The boy’s mother told reporters that her son’s organs were donated to help other families.
Joshua school district officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
David Bustillos, whose son also plays on the Joshua JV team and who was present at Thursday’s game, said a Cleburne player had pulled Singleton down by the face mask, drawing a penalty flag.
“He was on the ground for a little bit,” Bustillos said. “Then he had actually gotten up and was able to walk back to the bench. According to my son, he was responsive at the bench and that’s why the game continued.”
But staff members soon placed the teen on the ground and a woman began asking the crowd if anybody was a nurse or doctor.
“You could tell that something was horribly wrong,” Bustillos said. “Every person, every adult that went up to him, they were staring at him. They did not leave.”
While many fans, apparently unaware of what was going on, continued to cheer their teams, Bustillos said, others were shouting protests that the game was continuing.
“It was surreal,” he said. “You could tell that there was something happening and that it was tragic by the mood of everybody in close proximity to the boy. To hear in the background people cheering, ‘Come on defense!’ as the game was still going on, it was almost like an out-of-body experience. Like, ‘Is this really happening?’ ”
As the ambulance approached the field, Bustillos said, the buzzer sounded to begin the third quarter.
“There were some boys over there on the bench seeing what was going on with their friend,” Bustillos said. “There were coaches yelling ‘special teams!’ to get the kickoff team on the field to start the game.”
Walker, the Cleburne athletic director, defended those who allowed the game to continue, saying “neither side knew the severity of the situation until the ambulance got there.”
Some witnesses said they believe the district should consider having an ambulance on standby at JV games, something that is routine at varsity games.
“Why is there any difference?” said Mindy Pillow, a friend of Bustillos who was also present at the game. “Everybody knows about this. This is a big thing — kids getting concussions. This is a contact sport.”
Pillow added, “The fact that they had to run through and try to find a nurse shows me whoever was down there wasn’t qualified to be someone handling that situation.”
Walker said each school district employs its own state-certified trainers to assess injured athletes.
He said Cleburne has two certified trainers on staff, at least one of whom is present at every home game. If staff trainers are not available for a game, he said, the district brings in certified trainers who work on contract.
“They’re there to give first aid treatment,” Walker said. “They are a first responder.”
Lisa Magers, a Cleburne district spokesman, said Yellow Jacket varsity coach Jeff Merket asked that fans attending Friday night’s varsity game wear blue in honor of Singleton.
Magers said that the Joshua High School Sweetheart Dance Team would be selling blue ribbons for $1 and donating the proceeds to benefit Singleton’s family.
A GoFundMe account has been started on the family’s behalf.