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Fields of Broken Dreams

Freak Death of Baseball Player is Fifth Fatality This School Year and Many Are Pondering the Sense of It All

May 08, 1997|DAVID WHARTON

ERIC HOGGATT RESEDA HIGH: In Harm's Way Football: No one could recall a vicious tackle or a decisive hit that might have sealed Eric Hoggatt's fate.

On the night of Sept. 12, 1996, the 18-year-old senior played both running back and defensive back for Reseda High in an early-season game against Chatsworth. He was tackled a dozen or so times, but it wasn't until the fourth quarter, after chasing down a Chatsworth receiver, that he came out of the game.

Teammates said he complained of dizziness and numbness in his legs and fingers. Hoggatt returned for one more play before sitting out the final two minutes.

Afterward, he took a late-night school bus to his South-Central home and went to sleep. His mother found him dead the next morning.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said he died of a subdural hemorrhage, a buildup of blood inside the skull that exerted fatal pressure on his brain stem. The bleeding apparently resulted from an accumulation of blows.

"Sometimes these things can happen very slowly over time," said Dr. David Hovda, a UCLA associate professor of neurosurgery.

At a campus ceremony attended by 1,800 students, Reseda quarterback Jamaal Washington called Hoggatt "the joyfullest person on the campus." Coach Joel Schaeffer mused: "I've never been through anything like that before."

Not long after the season ended, Hoggatt's parents filed a wrongful-death suit, claiming that team officials and school administrators were negligent when they allowed Eric to board the bus for home unattended and did not inform family members of his injury.

"I blame Eric's death on the coaches and the doctor," said Michael E. Hoggatt, a trucker who was on the road in Kansas when his son died. "If they had given him proper medical treatment on the field, he would have been alive right now.

"They did absolutely nothing. They [might as well] have put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger."

Last March, in articles published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers suggested that coaches take even mild concussions more seriously and learn to administer sideline tests to immediately assess the extent of brain injury.

In addition, the CIF's City Section and Southern Section have begun developing enhanced safety programs with doctors and medical trainers from various Los Angeles hospitals.

"It's good to know they are following up," said Verna Hoggatt, Eric's mother. "Eric is on my mind daily, especially when I'm by myself. The pain can't be described."

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