Changes are coming to a South Georgia high school football program following a First Coast News investigation into a controversial medical procedure for athletes.
A Thomasville High School coach and athletic director and coach faced their school board Tuesday answering questions about their decision to use intravaneous (IV) therapy on football players two years ago.
On Nov. 19, First Coast News initially revealed photos of players receiving the IV fluids before their games in school hallways and on a bus. Medical professionals not associated with the school criticized the locations an unsanitary for the invasive procedure.
Some board members said they were unaware the athletic department endorsed routine IV drips.
Athletic director Christopher Merritt and coach Zach Grage defended the use of IV therapy.
The team's season ended two weeks ago after their winning record earned them a spot in the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Merritt said the team's health has also improved in the last two years.
"We’ve seen a fifty percent reduction in all football related injuries," Merritt said.
Merritt said near-death experience with a player in 2016 prompted his decision to begin giving IV hydration to athletes.
"A student athlete suffered a heat stroke during practice," Merritt told the school board. "[I] held this young man in [my] arms as his life faded away from his body."
However the explanation comes too late in the game for some members of the board.
Mary Williams-Scruggs questioned the school's liability if the procedure, monitored by nurses, went wrong.
"If anything happens, it impacts [the school board]. Therefore, we need to be aware," Williams-Scruggs said.
The IV therapy was administered to between 9 and 15 players, according to Grage who said he underestimated the need to go public with the IV therapy.
"I didn't see it as an extreme measure," Grage said. "Now I can understand the shock value involved in it.
Grage told the board the IV fluids are a part of their nutritional program, which also involves group meals for players.
"Those kids are my kids, I have three blood kids but it's really 82," Grage said of his team. "If at any point we thought they were in any kind of danger whatsoever, we would not do it."
Going forward the school board agreed to create a written policy to ensure the IVs are administered safely. A draft of the policy will be reviewed by February 12.
Board chairman Christopher Rodd said he trusts the athletic department and the team physician.
He said he learned other school districts use the methods, despite the lack of public information about the use.
"I think it’s sad when other systems don’t want to be open about it. If we can share ideas and be open about it on what’s best for kids all around, I’m happy."
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