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.
FOR THE RECORD
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.
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.
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.
“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.