McLean High School junior David Robinson, who collapsed and died during opening day of football practice yesterday morning, received and passed the standard physical examination required by the Virginia High School League and National Federation of State High Schools.
According to Bruce Patrick, athletic director for Fairfax County Schools, the 16-year-old Robinson had his physical examination Saturday at a Group Health Association branch in Fairfax.
"On the basic examinations, certain criteria have to be met and his examination form was signed by a doctor, certifiying him as eligible for participation," said Patrick. "There is nothing on his physical exam to indicate he had not met all the criteria."
Patrick said the basic physical examination form requires a complete medical history to be filled in by the parents or guardian and a physical exam that consists of checking the heart, lungs, eyes, ears, throat, plus urine and blood tests.
Robert Bademian, an internist at the GHA branch where Robinson was examined, said he has given a number of physicals to high school athletes, though he did not examine Robinson. He said the physical is not a "100 percent guarantee nothing will occur to the athlete following the exam.
"Maybe the general public puts too much faith in a basic physical exam," he said. "Even if you do get a clean bill of health, there are limits to a basic exam. Things still can happen.
"We check the heart for any abnormalities such as an irregular heartbeat or palpitations of the heart, blood pressure, respiration, glands, abdomen, curvatures of the spine, et cetera. Unless you do the more extensive tests, you won't pick up some abnormalities. Those tests can be very expensive and it would be tough to give them to every kid who wants to play ball."
Coaches and athletic directors yesterday spoke in near unanimity about the need for strict precautions for practices held in extreme heat and/or humidity. Robinson was in a lightweight jersey, shorts and a helmet when he was treated by emergency personnel, according to a county fire department spokesman. Patrick said yesterday's workout was light, with players sprinting 20 to 30 yards between running plays.
Falls Church Athletic Director Fran Bedont said players "practice only in shorts and helmets for the first five days, with no contact or other equipment. You have to get the kids acclimated to the weather quickly and have frequent water breaks."
Bedont said players are allowed water breaks as often as necessary, and trainers certified by the National Association of Athletic Trainers are at every workout.
"If a player feels fatigued or dizzy, they are to step off the field and see a trainer," Bedont said. "They also must be weighed before and after every practice session. If there is significant weight loss, the trainer will check them to see if there are any problems."
After the first five days of practice, which are usually limited to light workouts, a county-wide warning will be issued if conditions are too hot, Bedont said. "Officials will tell us to shorten or cancel practice for the day, or just practice without equipment."
First-year Fairfax coach Tom Berbanic said he alerted his players about Robinson's death when they began practice yesterday afternoon. He and Robinson Coach Nick Hilgent both described their schools' "wet bulb" tests -- mechanisms by which coaching staff and trainers can determine if conditions are safe for players to practice.
"If the temperature and humidity are at a certain level, and the machine reads over 80, we'll practice only in shorts and helmets," Berbanic said. "We also have water breaks every 15 minutes."
"We make sure our players drink plenty of water, and we keep a sprinkler on for players to walk through," Hilgent said. "We break every 30 minutes and work in groups so we can substitute often."