There was sorrow in the halls of Valley Christian School and the remainder of the football season was up in the air Monday following news of the death of player Andrew Fremont “Drew” Swank.
Swank, a 17-year-old junior, was pronounced dead Sunday following a head injury suffered when he was blocked and hit the ground during an eight-man football game on the field of defending state champion LaCrosse-Washtucna on Friday.
“He was just a great kid,” said coach Jim Puryear, who, with his assistant Mike Heden, traveled to Kahlotus, Wash., to console the Tigercats player who delivered the block. “It was a fluke thing. We wanted (the opposing player) to know it was nobody’s fault.”
The Panthers have postponed this week’s scheduled game against St. John-Endicott. Players met Monday afternoon to discuss the future of their season, athletic director Chad Kimberley said.
“We’ll not make anyone do what they don’t want to do,” Puryear said. “If they want to go on we’ll keep coaching.”
Players were wearing their jerseys Monday at school, where a small memorial had been set up in the foyer.
Panthers coaches said the play came near the end of the first half, close to their sideline. Swank was blocked and fell awkwardly, his head whipping back and striking the ground.
He was taken first to Ritzville, then air-lifted to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he underwent surgery to alleviate bleeding and swelling.
“It is with heavy hearts that Valley Christian faces the loss of one of its students,” the school said in a prepared statement. “We are confident that Andrew is with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Swank family wishes to convey their heartfelt thanks to all for their continued prayers and support.”
Don and Patti Swank, of Hauser Lake, said in a statement that they’ll donate their son’s organs “so others’ lives can be saved.”
Andrew Swank is also survived by four sisters and three brothers.
Valley Christian fielded its first football team in 2007. Swank, then a freshman, was on the initial roster. He played a wing back on offense and defensive back. He also was selected this year to compete on the school’s Knowledge Bowl team.
“He started some towards the end of last year,” said Puryear, “and was coming on really well. Our biggest challenge was getting him somewhere on time. He was just a great kid with a great smile.”
Valley Christian dropped to eight-man football this year and was playing its third game of the season. LaCrosse-Washtucna coach Jeff Nelson, whose team has won five state B-8 titles in the past seven years, expressed his sorrow over the death.
“Right now my concern is for their family, their school and my kids,” he said.
This spring, state lawmakers imposed new regulations on youth football programs. The act requires adoption of policies for the management of concussion and head injuries and liability insurance for schools and youth organizations. Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is working with school districts to develop guidelines.
Puryear said he completed the first clinic coaches are required to take educating them on the issue. He said Valley Christian spent extra money for quality helmets.
In 2004, the Seattle Times wrote a story following the death of a Seatac high school football player, DeShawn Smith, from a similar head injury. The story noted that such football deaths are rare.
The Times said that Smith was the 11th high school player in Washington to die of a football injury since 1936. Five years later, another is gone.
“My heart is broken for Drew’s family,” Puryear said. “My brother died, and I know what they are going through. I’m praying for them.”
A medical expense fund has been set up at Spokane Teachers Credit Union and through Valley Christian School.