Obituary: Lewis Simpkins, football player

Lewis Simpkins, a sophomore and football player at River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina, died shortly after he collapsed during a football practice at the school on Wednesday, August 10. He was 14.


Lewis Simpkins, 14, died after collapsing at a high school football practice. (school website)

Lewis stumbled and collapsed during a practice, USA Today reports. Coaches administered medical treatment, which included CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator. An ambulance responded, but Mr Simpkins did not recover, The State reported.

The defensive tackle stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 270 pounds. “It was a joy to coach Lewis,” the paper quoted James Reynolds, a former River Bluff assistant coach and now the defensive coordinator at Westwood High School, as tweeting. “Such a bright, talented young man. We’ll all miss his smile. But I don’t believe his spirit is gone.”

Football practice began at 5 PM on the day Simpkins collapsed. It rained a little in the afternoon, leading to high temps and steamy air. At Columbia, about 10–15 miles east of Lexington, the air temperature at 5 PM was 87.1°F, with a heat index of 95.4°F. Players are required to take water breaks every 15 or 20 minutes and rehydrate, but that doesn’t always happen. At those temperatures, most athletic trainers recommend removal of helmets and subsequent cessation of contact drills, but that doesn’t always happen either.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association even mandates that no outdoor practices take place if the heat index hits 96°F. “No outside activity, practice or contest, should be held,” the association writes. “Inside activity should only be held if air conditioned.”

The annual report from the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research at the University of North Carolina says seven high school and middle school athletes died from indirect causes—including heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, and complications from a non-fatal injury such as infection—during football-related activities or physical exertion in 2015 and 21 have died in the last three years.

  • Hydration stations (water fountains with faucets for filling water bottles) are coming to 43 schools this fall in the School District of Philadelphia, the Inquirer reports.

A Celebration of Life service was held in honor of Lewis last week, and the exact cause of death hadn’t been reported as of our publication date. All events at the high school were cancelled for the day after he died, and crisis counselors were made available to students.

Coaches from around the state have sent tributes, particularly via social media.

Mr Holbrook is the baseball coach at the University of South Carolina.

Ridge View High School is in Columbia.

“It puts things in perspective on how important life is and how it is important to seize every day,” The State quoted Batesburg-Leesville coach Perry Woolbright as saying. “You can’t worry about the bad things. You need to take advantage of the opportunities you have.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.