MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The opposing running back from Jack Crowe’s first game as a full-time high school coach died after a hit later in the 1972 season. Auburn’s starting fullback in 1983, Greg Pratt, collapsed and died after a preseason workout.
Those two deaths, 11 years apart, left their mark on Crowe.
Now, the former pre-med student who became head coach at Arkansas and Jacksonville State is trying to make his own mark in helping to reduce sports-related injuries among children.
“Both of them left you with a big ‘Why?’ in your head,” said Crowe, Auburn’s offensive coordinator when Pratt died. “I mean, a real big why. And you don’t dwell on it, but you never forget it.”
Crowe is working with Safe Kids Worldwide, prominent sports surgeon James Andrews’ Research and Education Institute and other groups on tackling youth injuries after a 35-year coaching career. Crowe, who has started the website www.coachsafely.com, attended President Barack Obama’s recent summit on concussions and met with Alabama lawmakers.
Crowe and Andrews have helped Jacksonville State start an online course that launches in the fall to educate coaches on preventing and dealing with sports injuries.
Jacksonville State plans to offer the first course for high school and junior high coaches then open it up to coaches at the parks and recreation level with a wider launch in the spring. It’s focused on concussions, heat-related illnesses, injuries caused by overtraining and sudden cardiac death.
“We want every kid – whether they’re in high school sports or parks and recreation sports – to be safe, and for those coaches to be knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of those injuries,” said John Hammett, dean of Jacksonville State’s College of Education and Professional Studies.
Hammett believes this is the first such youth injury prevention course at a university in the United States, though others like UCLA are conducting research. The U.S. Center For Disease Control reports that athletes in high school and younger suffer an estimated 5.5 million injuries annually, and says that more than half of those are preventable.
Like Crowe, Hammett was touched by the death of Jacksonville High’s star running back Anthony “Speedy” Cannon, after a game in October 1972. Crowe was a recent college graduate working nearby as Oxford High School’s offensive coordinator and still considering attending medical school.
Hammett, then a Jacksonville offensive lineman, rushed to help Cannon off the ground. Cannon died early the next morning from a traumatic brain injury after having, in the vernacular of the day, “had his bell rung” several times previously, Hammett said.
“Science and research will tell you that it’s not the first lick that does it,” he said. “It’s repeated licks over a small period of time that lead to that traumatic brain injury. If we had known more about concussions back in those days and we had educated the coaches and the players and the parents, then Speedy might be with us today.”
Crowe still gets emotional when talking about the death of Pratt, who he called “one of the most loved players on our team.”
A coroner determined the death was a result of heat stroke.