McMINNVILLE, Ore. — The McMinnville High School Grizzlies opened fall football practice on Monday while three of their teammates remained hospitalized with a mysterious condition that caused intense swelling and pain in their arm muscles.
Nineteen football players required treatment after the condition surfaced last week, including three who required surgery. It was unclear whether any of the affected players were at today’s practice. Two police cars were in the stadium parking lot and reporters were kept away from practice.
School officials planned an afternoon news conference to discuss the players’ ailment.
The football players were taking part in an immersion camp organized by new coach Jeff Kearin to get ready for the season. Many of the teenagers had also participated in a weight training session in the school’s wrestling room.
Authorities still do not know what caused the condition, which doctors say can be caused by certain drugs or by strenuous exercise or a combination of factors.
Devin Draper, a sophomore left guard, said the players were as perplexed as everyone else.
“I just want to know what happened,” he said as he reported to Wortman Stadium at McMinnville High for practice.
Draper and his teammates all underwent blood tests after the players came down with the condition, which is marked by high enzyme levels in the blood.
Some of the students said they took protein supplements, but doctors say the substances have not been tied to the injuries.
Dr. Craig Winkler, who is one of those treating the athletes, said the results of the blood tests are expected Tuesday or Wednesday and could determine whether any player took a supplement — like creatine — that could explain what happened.
“A few of the kids did admit they were drinking protein shakes, but we don’t know what was in them,” Winkler said Monday.
Winkler said it seems unlikely the players organized the use of a substance. “Usually, there’s going to be one kid who’s going to squeal, but we have heard nothing,” the doctor said.
The players described an intense drill in the high school’s wrestling room, where the temperature reached 115, Winkler said. He said the players had access to water at intervals, although they didn’t have water bottles nearby. “Some of the kids did drink, some didn’t,” he said.
McMinnville Police Capt. Dennis Marks said his force hasn’t begun an investigation.
“We haven’t gotten any information from the school or medical officials to give us reason to open one at this point,” he said.
The team was at fall practice this afternoon under Kearin, a veteran of nearly three decades at the high school and college level in California.
Draper said the coaching staff had been good about keeping the players informed about what was going on. He said some were concerned that the suggestion that steroids may be involved would taint the team.
However, he expected the team would ultimately be better for it.
“The worst has already happened,” Draper said. “It will only get better from here, I think.”
Kearin has been head coach at Cal State Northridge, which cut football in 2001, according to a profile published this year in the McMinnville News-Register newspaper.
Most recently, he coached Loyola High School in Los Angeles to the Southern Section Division I championship before leaving the post in 2009.
Adam Guerra, who worked as an assistant under Kearin at Loyola and took over as Loyola’s interim coach last year, said Kearin “always put his players’ well-being as a top priority.”
“He was never a rule-breaker. I would describe him as a player’s coach. He was not one of those old-school, smash-mouth kind of guys,” Guerra said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he is taking a year off from football.
He said Kearin never encouraged players to use supplements to build strength, believing that good conditioning and good nutrition were enough.