The player is tired and tries to take a break during practice. The coach yells at him to get back in there.
It’s a familiar scene.
But at one Staten Island field last summer, it may have been prologue to tragedy. Nicholas Dellaventura, a 15-year-old at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School, collapsed after his football team’s conditioning session and died from heat stroke.
Earlier this summer, his family filed a lawsuit against the high school and five of its employees. And this week, their lawyer explained to the New York Post why he thinks the coach’s actions should take the blame for the boy’s death.
“These kids were winded,” attorney Ralph DeSimone said to the Post. “Nicholas had pulled himself off the field because he couldn’t do it anymore, and he was told to go back and finish the practice.”
Dellaventura’s junior varsity coach, Salvatore Ferraioli, is a particularly ripe target. A month after the kid’s death, Ferraioli was arrested in a federal bust of a mob-linked sports gambling ring.
In their lawsuit, Dellaventura’s family claims that Ferraioli should have let the high schooler sit out when he needed a rest. After that, the lawsuit alleges that the adults made more costly mistakes: they didn’t call 911 quickly enough and they didn’t give the kid proper treatment in the meantime.
The school counters that the coaches followed official protocols. The July practice was in the evening–it began at 5 p.m. and the temperature was in the mid-80s. The players wore shorts and t-shirts.
As the Post noted, one assistant coach had said, “There was no way that workout could have done that to [Nicholas]. He was running basic drills.”
Instead, Ferraioli’s lawyer, Gerald McMahon, contends that Dellaventura came to practice with a fever that day. And that his mother was fully aware.
Football coaches’ actions, at all levels, have been in the spotlight recently. As the public has grown more knowledgeable about players’ safety, the expectations have changed–the trend is toward caution. Head injuries are the big issue, but heat stroke has gotten headlines as well.
Aspects of football’s tough-it-out culture can seem antiquated these days. And familiar scenes, long accepted without hesitation, now face public scrutiny.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha