Boy, 12, dies after football practice

He complained to his coach of being tired after wind sprints. He died en route to a hospital.

Published July 19, 2006

TAMPA - A 12-year-old Riverview boy died Monday evening after complaining to his football coach that he was tired and wasn't feeling well.

Bobby Stephens, a first-year member of the Progress Village Panthers varsity team, kneeled down after wind sprints on the first day of practice.

"We're not really sure what happened," Panthers athletic director Dwayne Sanders said Tuesday.

The boy died on the way to Brandon Regional Medical Center, said Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley. The ambulance arrived at the park about 8:30 p.m.

Sanders said he was shocked to learn later that evening that Bobby died. Bobby was new to the team, and Sanders said he didn't know him well. A sheriff's spokeswoman said Bobby lived in Riverview.

People were joking with Bobby before he left the Progress Village Park practice field, Sanders said. Paramedics told Sanders they believed Bobby's electrolytes were low, but the coach didn't expect the news he got when he talked to Bobby's parents later that evening.

"It's hard. I just went home and hugged my kids," said Sanders, a father of four who has been coaching with the Tampa Bay Youth Football League for 14 years.

On Tuesday, Panthers coaches held a 7 p.m. meeting for parents at the park to notify them about what happened. A volunteer nurse advised those in attendance about the dangers of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

"We're just praying for the family," said Carol Brown, 45, who was at the field Tuesday watching her 14-year-old son practice as he has every summer and fall for the past seven years. Brown said she didn't know Bobby but the news unsettled her.

A co-worker broke the news at work, so she called home to tell her son to drink some water. "It's nerve-wracking," Brown said.

Cheerleaders practiced their chants into the cool, overcast and drizzly evening Tuesday, while boys on the field ran practice drills, occasionally stopping at the sidelines for water.

As Carol and Jack Lester watched their 13-year-old run and catch a ball on the practice field, they shook their heads over the news of Bobby's death. "He's just a baby," Carol Lester said, her eyes on her own son.

It's not clear what caused Bobby's death. A medical examiner will determine that.

Sanders said Bobby's parents asked him to go on with practice Tuesday. The team plans to dedicate its season to the boy.