O.C. athlete, 16, died of heatstroke

Times Staff Writer

A 16-year-old football player who collapsed in August during the first day of practice at Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine died of heatstroke, the Orange County coroner’s office said Thursday.

Kenny Wilson, a 6-foot-2, 276-pound junior lineman, fell ill toward the end of 2 1/2 hours of conditioning drills that began at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 17.

Officials with the Tustin Unified School District said the heat-related death could prompt policy changes for athletic practices.


“This was a very tragic accident, and we continue to mourn the loss of this young man,” said Mark Eliot, a district spokesman. “We will definitely review our program and procedures within the district for practices and conditioning. Any time something like this happens, you want to look at the overall athletic program.”

Eliot said temperatures on the morning of Aug. 17 were in the mid-70s. At the time of Wilson’s death, he was wearing shorts, a shirt and helmet but no pads. Five minutes earlier, Coach Brian Mustain said, the team had just finished a 10-minute water break.

Mustain declined to comment on the results of the autopsy, though he did say Wilson was a “big kid, but to describe him as obese or fat would be incorrect.”

Eliot said Wilson’s heat-related death was the first in the district’s history.

Last year, there were five cases of heatstroke death in the nation, three at the high school level, one at the college level and one at the sandlot level, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

Since 1995, 31 football players have died of heatstroke, according to the group’s website, including 23 high school athletes.

Sandra Fowkes Godek, a researcher specializing in heat-related issues among at-risk athletes at Pennsylvania’s West Chester University, said the first few days of football practice often are the most dangerous.

“Football players who die practicing do so in the first or second day in the preseason,” she told The Times last year. “You really monitor those first three days.”

Thom Simmons, a spokesman for the CIF-Southern Section, said he couldn’t remember another heat-related death in his 10 years with the governing body for high school sports.

“I don’t foresee us putting any kind of panel together,” he said. “These kind of deaths are so few and far between. But these accidents happen and we . . . try to stay on the forefront of these problems by providing as much literature as we can to our coaches.”

Mustain resigned Monday after several weeks of deliberation. The autopsy results were released two days later, but the coach said one was not related to the other.

Mustain said his wife, Stefania, has a lifestyle-altering illness that requires him to care for her and their children. He will continue to teach physical education at the school.


Times staff writer Martin Henderson contributed to this report.