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Grief, questions surround Brandon athlete's death


Published:   |   Updated: September 24, 2013 at 02:18 PM

Two days after Milo Meeks passed away, students, teachers and administrators at two schools Monday were left trying to make sense of the tragedy as classes resumed.

Meeks, a 17-year-old Brandon High basketball player, collapsed in the school's cafeteria Friday en route to the gymnasium following a mile run around the school's track. He was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital and died Saturday.

Hundreds of Brandon students wore white T-shirts on Monday and gathered at the school's flag pole to pray for Meeks.

“I didn't organize that,” Brandon Principal Carl Green said, “they did that on their own.”

A crisis team was at the school. Green made an announcement to Brandon students and informed the faculty of what happened. At Armwood High School, where Meeks played a year ago, a crisis team was made available to boys and girls basketball players, students and faculty.

Brandon basketball coach Jamie Turner, who graduated from Brandon in 2003, was also wearing a white T-shirt.

“It's really hitting home because he's not here,” Turner said. “I see him every morning, and he always gave me a 'good morning, sir.'”

Turner said it's more difficult for the athletes who knew and trained with Meeks.

“They eat breakfast together every morning as a team,” he said. “That's our mission. The players are hurt because a piece is not there.”

Meeks' name is still on a roster display in the Armwood gym, and basketball coach Jeff Pafunda said it will remain throughout the school year in Meeks' memory. The team will also keep Meeks' No. 30 Armwood jersey draped over a chair, which will remain unoccupied during games throughout the upcoming season, Pafunda said.

Meeks was cleared by a physician to participate in athletics at Brandon. During his three years at Armwood, Meeks passed physical evaluations to compete in basketball. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office has completed an autopsy, but the exact cause of death is pending test results that won't be known for weeks, a spokeswoman in the office said.

Ben Bromley, Meeks' junior varsity coach at Armwood, was at the hospital with Meeks' family and other basketball players on Friday and Saturday. He said Meeks' heart and lungs shut down and his fever spiked.

According to the U.S. National Registry of Sudden Deaths in Young Competitive Athletes, created by the Minnesota Heart Institute Foundation 27 years ago, there were 1,886 sudden deaths among young athletes ages 6 through 19 including 85 cardiac arrest survivors, between 1980 and 2006. Of those, 1,049 were judged to be cardiovascular causes.

Athletes participating in basketball had the most sudden death incidents at 33 percent, followed by football with 25 percent.

Dr. Barry Maron, with the Minnesota Heart Institute, said 70 percent of sudden death cases in young athletes are cardiovascular, but would not speculate what could have caused Meeks' death.

“It's a number of diseases that can cause this,” Maron said. “The answer would be different depending on the disease. You have to wait until autopsy is complete. It's way too speculative right now.”

Meeks is the second Tampa-area athlete to die following sports conditioning this month. Ben Richards, a 2012 graduate of Hillsborough High, died Sept. 13 at Shands Hospital in Gainesville a week after collapsing during a wrestling practice at Darton State College in Georgia. Richards, a sophomore, collapsed on Sept. 4 from heat exhaustion.

The National Federation of State High School Associations Sports Medicine Advisory Committee reports exertion heatstroke as the leading preventable cause of death in high school athletics.

nwilliams@tampatrib.com

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