The second practice of the football season had just begun Monday afternoon, and two dozen boys and girls were catching passes on the Camp Springs field when 8-year-old Kwame Kyler collapsed. Ninety minutes later, he was dead.
It was the kind of incident that inevitably raises the old, troubling questions about whether football is a game for small children, especially in the summer heat. But yesterday Kwane Kyler's parents expressed no bitterness and placed no blame.
"We're not blaming anyone, we're not angry about anything," said Kwame's father, Phillip, a Metro subway operator. "Kwame lived a happy life and, if he had to die anyway, we're glad it could be this way, where he was happy."
Kwame Kyler was born in 1972 with a heart condition that usually kills its victims before they reach teens. But since undergoing open heart surgery when he was a year old, he had lived an almost normal life. When a doctor said football would not mean any additional risk, Kwame Kyler's parents decided to let him play.
"He just wanted to be the best at everything," Kwame's mother, Geraldine Kyler, said. "All his life it seemed he was trying to make up for how much his heart problem held him back."
Kwame's heart defect -- in which two main arteries were tangled around each other -- curtailed his growth in the first 12 months of his life. Before the open-heart surgery, Kwame weighed just nine pounds and according to his parents had never sat up and rarely smiled.
"We had lots of faith in God," said Mrs. Kyler explaining the recovery from the operation. While doctors say that 95 percent of children with Kwame's heart condition require hospitalization or medication, Kwame never needed either.
In fact, Kwame grew to be an energetic and smiling child, a natural comedian, and in the words of his mother, "the number one kid in the neighborhood."
Kwame led such a normal life that his parents said thoughts about his condition were relegated to the back of their minds.
One of the few reminders of Kwame's condition was an agreement among neighborhood children that if they ever rode bikes or played football too strenuously, they would stop and take a half-hour break to allow him to rest.
Kwame's parents said he loved Muhammad Ali, sports cars ("Especially black Corvettes with red interiors," Mrs. Kyler remembers), Saturday Night Live" -- and football.
Although doctors did not allow Kwame to participate in the football Kwame to participate in the football program at Camp Springs Boys and Girls Club last year, he still showed up for every game to watch his neighborhood friends play.
"He was a football fanatic," said his mother. "He told me just the other day, 'I don't want to sit on the sidelines like I did last year.'"
In May, the Kylers took their son for a check-up that included a stress test. This time the doctor said it would be all right if Kwame played football.
The Kylers said they did not tell the team coach about Kwame played football.
The Kylers said they did not tell the team coach about Kwame's heart condition.
"I hadn't talked to the coach in person, but I was afraid if I told him, the coach will say Kwame couldn't play, even though the doctor had said it was okay. And I knew how much it meant to Kwame that he play football this year," Mrs. Kyler explained.
The coach and officials from the Camp Springs Boys and Girls Club could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Last Saturday afternoon was the first day of practice and Kwame and his teammates were issued maroon and gold team jerseys. At 11:30 that night, Kwame was still wearing his. "If I hadn't made him take it off he would've slept in it," said his mother.
On Monday afternoon Kwame played football with his friends in the side yard of his house. Excited about playing on an organized team for the first time, Kwame then waited on the curb in front of his house for 15 minutes until his ride arrived.
At practice, Kwame -- dressed in his street clothes -- joined his teammates in a round of push-ups and leg lifts. After the coach sent them to run a lap of the field, the players split into two lines for a pass-catching drill.
According to one of Kwame's friends, Kwame's line was too long and the coach asked Kwame to switch As Kwame walked from one line to the other, he fell down clutching his chest. When the coach asked Kwame what was wrong the boy opened his mouth but could not speak.
Police rushed Kwame to Malcolm Grow Medical Center at nearby Andrews Air Force Base, where he died at 6:52 p.m.
Yesterday, the Kylers spent the day quietly at home in Camp Springs with relatives. Their other child, a 5-year-old daughter, was playing with friends in a dinning room.
"This could have happened anywhere," said Phillip Kyler, "The kids play football for hours in the yard and they play as hard as at any practice."
His wife sat nearby, flipping through a family photo album.
"We're not angry at the doctors," she said. "We're deeply grateful. Without them Kwame never would have had the life he did."
Asked what he would especially remember about his son, Phillip Kyler smiled.
"Everything," he said.