Hastings' Life-Saving Response Reinforces Vital Importance of Being Prepared

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

August 23, 2022

HASTINGS – Preseason silence, mixed with anticipation, made Hastings High School’s gym feel especially pristine last week.

Mid-MichiganThe raucousness is returning soon as the school’s volleyball teams are into their first matches of a new season, with winter sports bringing everyone inside in a few months. This is a place where big-game memories are made – but one from a scrimmage June 14 certainly will stick with many who were at Hastings High that day.

That evening, Potterville junior Da’Marion Hicks was playing in a basketball scrimmage when he suffered a heart attack due to a valve that later required open-heart surgery.

During a period of just a few minutes that could have meant his life, Hastings staff, students and a doctor who fortunately happened to be watching his son’s team from the stands, responded to assist Hicks before it was too late. In fact, he’s expected to be cleared to return this upcoming basketball season.

It’s a situation everyone hopes will never happen, but very occasionally it does. And when it did this time, Hastings – with crucial assistance coming out of the bleachers – showed what can be done to assure a best-possible result.

“We debriefed after this whole thing, and we actually had six people from our school (there) trained in CPR and AED use. Enough people felt comfortable enough to take some action to cause it to have a good outcome,” Hastings athletic director Mike Goggins said. “I think more times than not in a situation like this, bad results don’t come from people trying to help. Bad results come from people being afraid to help. What was great about this situation was … lots of people took the initiative to jump in.”

As another school year begins, Hastings’ ready response should continue to reinforce the importance of being prepared for the scariest of situations. (The Grand Rapids Press spoke with Hicks as he was beginning his recovery; click here to read.)

Emergency planning for sports venues has emerged as an important topic especially over the last decade, and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) detail how these should work, with the “Anyone Can Save A Life” plan provided to all member schools by the MHSAA at the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Goggins said that while Hastings doesn’t necessarily have a “formal” plan like those linked above, what his department does is “saturate” his teams’ coaches and athletes with knowledge of where to find AEDs – and Hastings also has created a setup whereby a person is never more than one minute from an AED while on school property.

That evening, four boys basketball teams were playing on adjacent courts – including Potterville against Wyoming Tri-unity Christian. Goggins himself wasn’t at the school at the time (although he quickly arrived after being notified of the situation), but the following is the collection of information he has gathered over the last two months.

  • Hicks had felt especially fatigued that evening and actually had mentioned to a few Hastings players during their scrimmage earlier that night that he was having a hard time catching his breath – definitely rare for a three-sport athlete who had run the 400 meters at an MHSAA Track & Field Finals a few weeks earlier.
  • Hicks went to his bench for a break during the Tri-unity scrimmage, and laid down. Goggins said Potterville teammates thought Hicks was just gassed, but then noticed his eyes rolling back into his head. They started yelling for help.
  • Hastings boys basketball coach Rich Long sprang into action, running over to the Potterville bench and then calling into the crowd to see if anyone with medical expertise could help a student in distress. Meanwhile, Long was joined by Hastings’ strength coach (and U.S. Marine) James Avery – who was training athletes in the weight room in the balcony overlooking the gym – and Dr. Luke Van Klompenberg, an emergency medicine physician at Holland Hospital who was there watching his son play for Tri-unity.
  • Long sent an athlete to retrieve the closest AED, located on the wall just outside the gym doors. He also sent a parent to call 9-1-1, and Saxons boys track & field coach Lin Nickels sent multiple athletes to set up a relay near the school’s doors to direct paramedics when they arrived.
  • Van Klompenberg, meanwhile, couldn’t find Hicks’ pulse, and the athlete’s breathing was shallow. Avery had begun chest compressions, the AED was used, and as the ambulance arrived Hicks was beginning to regain some consciousness. He was transported to the local Spectrum Health Pennock hospital, then to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids.

“It was one of those things where it just worked,” Goggins said. “My message, if nothing else, is we all practice it for a time that may never come – but the more you can saturate your people with the idea of A, being prepared, and B, don’t be afraid to take action … that’s really I think the key.”

Strength coach James Avery emerged from the balcony weight room to assist in Hicks’ care that evening. Beginning this year, the MHSAA is requiring all head coaches at the varsity, junior varsity and freshman levels to have CPR certification. That training almost always includes direction in the use of an AED.

Hastings has been on this track for a while. The MHSAA’s first CPR requirement for coaches was added for the 2015-16 school year, just for varsity head coaches – but Goggins made it a requirement for all of his coaches at all levels at that time.

Hastings also has taken AED prep to another level. There are 16 throughout the district – one each at the four elementary schools, two at the middle school and 10 at the high school – and they represent an even bigger investment in the life-saving technology as the district’s school board purchased those 16 a year ago to replace 12 that were nearing their expirations.

Goggins said doctors have told him that if Hicks had not received care for even 4-5 more minutes, he would not have survived because of the damage done to his heart and brain. Potterville athletic director and boys basketball coach Jake Briney said surgeons have broken things down to a 45-second window that made the difference between a good result and a sad one.

Coincidentally, Briney had scheduled a game this upcoming season against Wyoming Tri-unity Christian;  Potterville should be tough, and Tri-unity is last season’s Division 4 runner-up. But the events of June 14 will make the events of this upcoming Jan. 14 much more meaningful.

Briney said Potterville also has formed a close relationship with Hastings. Multiple Saxons administrators have checked in, including Goggins almost daily during the first weeks after the incident.

Briney is filled with nothing but praise for Hastings’ preparation. And both athletic directors noted a similar effect at their schools as another school year begins.

“It really, really made the training, made you look at it through a different lens,” Briney said.

“Our fall coaches are now like, ‘You know, if Heather (Coipel, Hastings’ trainer) wanted to stop by and run through the AED procedure again, that would be great,’” Goggins said. “(Or) ‘Where is the AED? We have one at the fieldhouse, right? Where’s the closest one for me again?’ They’re just doublechecking.”

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He is a senior editor of  MHSAA.com's editorial content and has served as MHSAA Communications Director since January 2021. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS (Top) An AED, located just outside the doors to Hastings’ gymnasium, was used to save Da’Marion Hicks’ life June 14. (Middle) Strength coach James Avery emerged from the balcony weight room to assist in Hicks’ care that evening. (Photos by Geoff Kimmerly.)

Sports Injuries & Student Athletes: A Parent’s Guide

March 7, 2023

Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also builds confidence and teaches them valuable life lessons, like working as a team and the value of hard work. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious injuries that will take them out of the game altogether.

Henry Ford Health"Sports help with physical and psychological well-being," says Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "However, year-round participation in a single sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout."

Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren't fully developed. Furthermore, the pressures of year-round participation and focus on excelling, rather than enjoyment, can negatively affect a young athlete's mental health.

Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing many visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.

How To Prevent Sports Injuries

Preparing your children appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Santa Barbara offers four key pieces of advice to help your youth athletes avoid injury.

1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at and enjoy.

2. Warm up. Make sure your child is properly warming up before they play any sport. Dynamic warmups--incorporating exercises that involve moving the body such as lunges, high knees and arm circles – are preferable to stretching alone.

3. Strengthen core muscles. Building up core strength takes pressure off joints in the arms and legs. It gives young athletes more momentum and can help improve their performance.

4. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is allowing time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.

Children participating in a sport should never push through pain, and injuries should be promptly evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Physical injuries are often more obvious, while mental health issues due to sports participation can be more subtle. Symptoms such as fatigue and declining performance can be signs of burnout. In these situations, rest is also important.

"Sports should be fun for kids," says Dr. Santa Barbara. "Avoiding single-sports specialization at a young age keeps the focus on enjoyment while reducing the physical and psychological risks of year-round participation."

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/sportsmedicine or call 313-651-1969.

Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., is a non-operative sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus, Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.