Saturday 21 April 2018

Schoolboy's log death sparks fears over military-style football drills

Police examine the scene of the log drill tragedy at Sachem High School East (Newsday/AP)
Police examine the scene of the log drill tragedy at Sachem High School East (Newsday/AP)

The death of a 16-year-old boy struck on the head by a large log he was carrying with football team-mates in a US Navy SEALs-style drill has raised concerns about adapting super-tough military training for young athletes.

Joshua Mileto, 16, a pupil at Sachem High School East in Farmingville, New York, and about five of his team-mates were carrying the log overhead when the accident happened at a pre-season exercise camp supervised by half a dozen coaches, Suffolk County police said.

Joshua, a 5ft 6ins wide receiver and defensive back, was later pronounced dead in hospital.

Sachem East graduate Carlin Schledorn, who played football as a junior, said carrying the 12ft log, which is as wide as a telegraph pole, was a "team building" exercise.

"It's very big. It's like a tree, and it's a challenge for people who weightlift," he said.

"Five or six people do it at once. I feel horrific for the team and coaches because I know them, and they are all great men."

School chiefs, including the head coach, did not comment on the exercise.

Classmate Olivia Cassereli said Joshua, who she called her best friend, "cared about everyone else".

"He put others before himself, and everyone loved him and was friends with him," she said.

Some US colleges and high schools have incorporated log-carrying drills and other military-inspired exercises into their football preparations in recent years, sometimes bringing in SEALs to teach and motivate.

The drills are thought by some some coaches and players to help forge teamwork.

But Douglas Casa, executive director of the University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute, which works to improve safety for athletes, questioned the wisdom of having teenagers perform an exercise that involves carrying a heavy object that was developed for Navy SEALs - "potentially a very different clientele".

"There's so much potential for things to go wrong that I would really want people to think twice before doing something like that," he said.

American football, at all levels, has become more safety-conscious in recent years amid scrutiny of head injuries in the sport.

This year the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned college football two-a-day contact practices that coaches once used to toughen up their teams in the pre-season, though many teams had ended them already.

Tom Combs, executive director of Suffolk County's athletic organisation that oversees high school sports, said off-season practices were allowed, as long as they were open to everyone and not compulsory.

"What exercises that are conducted are the privy of the school district and individuals running the workouts," he said.

Sachem school district superintendent Dr Kenneth Graham extended condolences to Joshua's family and friends and said support services would be offered "for as long as needed".

The team's training officially starts on Monday, and the football season starts in September.


Last month players at Indiana's New Albany High School teamed up to carry 6ft 200lb logs two miles.

SEALs and Green Berets trained them first on how to lift the logs and carry them on their shoulders, coach Steve Cooley said.

Accompanied by coaches and a police escort, the groups paused for water and put the logs down every one or two streets, and each six-person squad had an extra man who could stand in if someone became tired.

"The purpose was not to try to see how tough they are ... the purpose was to accomplish a goal," Mr Cooley said.

"It was very rewarding for all of us."


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