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‘MVP at life’ dies suddenly

Mary Foster Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – Shannon Veal stepped to the foul line, steadied herself and sank two free throws. Then she signaled that she needed a breather.

Before her coach could replace her, the 17-year-old Louisiana high school star collapsed and died.

“It’s the kind of thing I’ll always look back on, but it was just seconds,” Glen Oaks High School coach Harold Boudreaux said by telephone Tuesday. “She was guarding a player and just keeled over. You could hear her head hit the floor.”

Paramedics arrived in minutes Monday night. They began CPR and used a defibrillator as the crowd of about 200 watched. Among those at the gym was an LSU scout and Veal’s father, Gilbert, who was recording the playoff game at Glen Oaks in Baton Rouge.

“Nothing can prepare you for this,” Boudreaux said. “The only comfort is that she was doing what she loved. She wasn’t interested in playing basketball – she was in love with playing basketball. She was a real basketball player.”

Veal, a 5-foot-8 junior point guard, was the district MVP. She was averaging 14 points, 5.5 assists and two steals a game. Her coach said she had received letters from more than 75 schools, including LSU, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech and Tulane.

“She was everything you want in a point guard,” Boudreaux said. “She could read the court and control the game. But she was also everything you want in a young lady. She was an MVP at life.”

The cause of death was not known Tuesday. Veal was diabetic, but according to Dr. Kim Edward LeBlanc, chairman of the department of family medicine at the LSU Medical Center and a specialist in sports medicine, that should not have prevented her from playing.

“Generally, if you have well controlled diabetes there should be no problems, especially at that age,” LeBlanc said. “In fact, we encourage diabetics to exercise.”

All high school athletes must have a complete physical once a year, said Kenny Henderson, commissioner of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

One study of sudden death in young athletes in 1995 found the ratio of males to females was about 10 to 1. The ratio is imbalanced because so many more males than females played high school athletics, and will even out as more girls take up sports, LeBlanc said.

The most common cause of sudden, unexpected death among young athletes is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, LeBlanc said. The condition makes it difficult for blood to leave the heart but is difficult to discern.

Glen Oaks’ game against Helen Cox High School was called with 1:34 left in the first half. At the time, Glen Oaks led 31-17. Veal had scored 11 points.

Less than 24 hours after the game was suspended, Veal’s teammates, opponents, fellow students and fans were back at the gym to finish the remaining 17:34. Glen Oaks went on to beat Helen Cox 67-40.

“It was hard, it was hard not seeing that No. 25,” Boudreaux said, referencing Veal’s jersey number. “But I give it to my kids. They came out. They held their composure. They played under control. What more can you ask for?”

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