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California

Orange County boy who was paralyzed by hit during 2011 Pop Warner game has died

Donnovan Hill

Donnovan Hill, a teenager whose paralyzing football injury led to increased safety protections for young players, died Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

(Hill Family/Robert Carey)

Donnovan Hill was 13 in 2011 when he suffered a fractured spine during a Pop Warner championship game in Laguna Hills. It left him with minimal use of his arms and no independent movement below his chest.

Hill died Wednesday at an Orange County hospital of complications from surgery related to management of his injury, attorney Robert Carey told The Associated Press. He was 18.

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FOR THE RECORD

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May 5, 6:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this story said that Donnovan Hill suffered a fractured spine during a Pop Warner championship game in 2001. The injury occurred during a game in 2011.

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Hill and his mother, Crystal Dixon, alleged in a 2014 lawsuit against the youth league that the teen used a dangerous headfirst tackling technique promoted by his coaches.

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The suit alleged that Hill was punished when he objected to the technique in practice and that he used it in games with no repercussions. In an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in 2013, his coaches offered conflicting accounts on whether they encouraged headfirst tackling.

Head coach Sal Hernandez said he warned Hill against using the technique, but assistant coach Manny Martinez defended its use.

The lawsuit revealed the lack of safety protections for Pop Warner players. Founded in 1929, the league promoted a safety-first philosophy and claimed young people played for coaches trained in proper tackling.

But in a deposition, executive director Jon Butler conceded that the national office does not check whether coaches actually receive such training, ESPN reported. The sports network first reported Hill’s death.

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Hill reached a seven-figure settlement with Pop Warner in January, though exact details were not disclosed. The case set an important legal precedent that will force national organizations to enforce rules all the way down to the community level, said Carey, the attorney.

“Donnovan’s case will have an impact on young athletes for generations,” he said. “It will help ensure that those in charge of safety — from directors and coaches to whole organizations — will not be allowed to shirk their duties or avoid responsibility.”

Hill is survived by his mother.

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