When the Springbrook High football coaches suspected one of the team’s players had come down with a staph infection last week, they acted quickly. Worried that it might spread through the team, the trainer ordered the locker room to be sprayed with a disinfectant.
Halfway through practice later that day, there was a new problem. Junior defensive lineman Matthew Robinson started to feel something burning on his chest and back. Other players were in pain, too, and it became difficult for them to focus on football.
By the next morning, the Silver Spring school and coaching staff were flooded with calls about players suffering from first- and second-degree burns that forced them to seek medical attention. Robinson spent three days in the hospital when his burns became infected.
The staph infection proved to be a false alarm, and now parents of the affected players are furious with the school’s response to the situation — both its improper use of a powerful cleaning agent and its lack of communication to parents.
The problem became so extensive that the school was forced to throw away all equipment that had been sprayed and postpone Friday’s game until Monday, when the school had to call up junior varsity players to fill the void left by those still dealing with injuries.
“You injured my child by negligence, so I’m going to let the legal system handle it,” said Robinson’s mother, Chimene Jules. “The parents’ concerns and questions need to be answered, and that would take away a lot of the frustration.”
The football players said they were instructed to take their jerseys home because the locker room was going to be disinfected as a precaution. But parents were not informed of the concern of a staph outbreak, and they were not told what disinfectant the school was using.
Springbrook Principal Sam Rivera said Tuesday he would have expected the coaching staff to inform the parents about the possibility of staph and the precautionary locker room sanitation. But Rivera acknowledged the school erred in how it applied the disinfectant.
“In an effort to be proactive and do the right thing by kids, we messed up,” Rivera said. “We made some serious mistakes with how the material was used.”
The disinfectant used was Virex II 256, Rivera said. The label on the agent says the product is designed for use on non-porous surfaces, such as floors and walls. Football pads, designed for absorbing hits to the body, have some porous, or permeable, material, so using the disinfectant on the football pads and helmets was a mistake, Rivera said. The label warns the disinfectant is corrosive and can cause irreversible skin burns. Building services was responsible for sanitizing the locker room, and Rivera would not comment on whether anyone has been fired or suspended over the incident.
The equipment room was sprayed with the disinfectant Sept. 16. Robinson said he and several others spoke up during practice that afternoon that they felt a burning sensation, but Springbrook Coach Adam Bahr said the complaints weren’t “red flags waving,” and the practice lasted the full three hours. Asked if he connected the recent treatment of the locker room with the players’ talk of burning at the practice, Bahr said he only realized the seriousness of the problem the following morning when he had missed calls and texts from parents.
“After practice, I went home and went to bed,” said Bahr, who is in his third year as Blue Devils coach. “I had a handful of texts when I woke up the next morning, and then I thought, ‘Oh goodness, something’s going on.’ ”
Robinson said his burns were dark pink by the end of practice and resembled a rug burn. In the morning, the burns had turned black and looked more serious. Robinson said the pain was a seven out of 10 during the practice, but the burns became unbearable by the end of the day, eventually landing him in the hospital for three days, including his 16th birthday.
Bahr visited Robinson in the hospital, Jules said. Robinson will miss the rest of the season because of his burns, and he won’t be in school for at least the rest of this week.
Some players shared pictures of their burns in a group text, comparing the marks that ranged from red to black.
“There was a point where they were like, ‘We don’t want to see yours anymore,’ ” Robinson said.
Parents said they did not know what disinfectant caused the burning until the next morning, Sept. 17, even though several players had to seek medical attention after practice. Jubal Ray, the father of senior wide receiver Jabree Ray, said he called the poison control center when Jabree was in pain after practice that night, but didn’t know what to tell poison control when they asked about what chemical his son was exposed to. The Rays went to the emergency room that night, and Jabree was treated for second-degree burns.
Rivera said he called the junior varsity and varsity football players who had come to school the next day into a meeting. There, about 15 players said they had a burn or a rash from the previous night’s practice. Rivera said the parents of those students were called to pick them up and seek treatment.
Jabree Ray wasn’t in school on Sept. 17, and Jubal Ray said he was disappointed with the lack of communication. He had to reach out to the school before the school reached out to him, he said. Valerie Gillespie, the mother of senior running back Jordan Gillespie, said she left her contact information with a member of the administration at the school, wanting clarity on what went wrong. She never heard back from the school, she said, though her son did receive a call on his cellphone. Rivera said he attempted to call every football parent Sept. 17.
The players who were in school during the week were told to tell their parents about a meeting Friday night, but some parents said they never received the message. Rivera acknowledged that because of the short notice, it wasn’t an ideal way to call a meeting and said he plans to have another meeting in the near future. Some parents who did attend the Friday meeting said they left unsatisfied with what Rivera could and could not tell them.
“Sometimes the information that they want, I can’t share with them,” Rivera said. “Like the who did this and this and this.”
Calls to Montgomery County Public Schools Director of Systemwide Athletics William Beattie seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Springbrook purchased new pads and helmets for Monday’s game against Sherwood, which the Blue Devils lost, 56-6. Bahr said six or seven players did not play Monday because of their injuries, and five junior varsity players were moved up to varsity as a result.
Jabree Ray played the entire game, but missed school on Tuesday after irritating his burns during the game. Rivera said the school considered cancelling the game.
Watching her son play from the bleachers Monday, Valerie Gillespie said she thought it was disrespectful for the team to play while some players were still injured. She said she and two other mothers of players have retained an attorney to resolve the incident going forward.
“I think that’s why they’re not talking,” Gillespie said of the school’s response to the incident. “They know it’s coming. They have to know. I mean, it’s horrible to see your child in pain and not knowing what to do.”