I have always envisioned the way this event unfolded in my mind’s eye from the safety of a birds-eye view drifting on a vent of wind far above the action as this is as close as I could ever allow myself to get, even now. I am way above the football field at San Bernardino Valley College. I see players and coaching staff on the field, its a typical afternoon of practice. Players are running through drills and scrimmage line ups are tested.
The defense lines up against the offensive line. The ball is snapped. The play has run its course of bodies crashing into each other. The practice has come to an unusual halt. Something is wrong down there. A large circle has slowly closed in around a player, Dave who is on the ground. He doesn’t look right. He is laying on his back, with his legs unnaturally folded up underneath him, his cleats are digging into the flesh of his backside yet he is not moving around in reaction to what looks like a painful landing.
The coaches jog over to assess what has happened, why he has not shaken off this hit and simply gotten up. It is determined immediately that something is wrong, very wrong. Someone sprints to the sports office to call an ambulance. Most athletes at the college level have all experienced an injury at some point, but they don’t expect to go to practice and leave in an ambulance. The energy of the crowd of players shifts quickly to shock and grave concern for their teammate because none of what they see looks to be anything but ok.
The ambulance arrives in minutes and enters the field through a large chain link gate near the north parking lot of the SBVC campus and drives right onto the football field grass as everyone present steps aside, opening the protective circle of concerned players on one side to allow its approach.
He did not lose consciousness, he explains what he thinks has happened, clearly remembers being hit, a delayed hit. He looked up to see his opponent to determine the reason for the delay. At the moment he looked up his teammate tackled him, basically over the top of him. His head was in the completely wrong and unprotected position of looking up. Instead of the energy of the impact going through the helmet, through his spine and body like it should when the head is tucked down, his head snapped backward, the back edge of his helmet dug into his spine.
He described feeling something like an electric power panel lever being thrown in a lights-out manner of speaking before hitting the grass. He was confused because he had no sense of his body as he lay there, he asks where his arms or legs were situated. He could tell he was in an awkward position but felt nothing physical, only concern for the unknown whatever in the hell this was. He conveys the above-outlined steps he moved through that led to this moment to the coaches and again to the ambulance crew as they too, quickly assess the critical severity of the situation.
An ambulance in an odd location like the middle of a football field draws attention. Brian, Dave’s best friend, is leaving campus for the day. He is heading toward and enters the same north parking lot directly adjacent to the football field. He notices the ambulance and crowd on the field because the unusual spectacle is not anything one would miss. He stops momentarily, concerned about whoever was obviously injured enough to need an ambulance at football practice, but he is too far away to be able to discern anything. He continues as he was, on his way to his car and heads home.
Bruce, another close friend of Dave’s, is in shop class, also adjacent to the football field on the west side. The doors to the class are open because it’s a hot day. Among the noise in the shop, Bruce and other students also notice the ambulance on the football field. Like Brian, Bruce felt some mild concern about what may have happened on the field that required an ambulance response, but he too was too far away to really see anything one way or another. He goes back to his work at hand as the ambulance crew is working on someone.
An isolation board is slipped under Dave in an effort to avoid moving him and possibly causing further damage. He is strapped in place and quickly loaded into the ambulance. His friend from way before junior college, Steve Avila jumps in the ambulance to be with his friend who may be in serious trouble. The ambulance heads off the grass carefully out of the parking lot and north toward San Bernardino Community Hospital a short drive away. It was in the later part of the four o’clock hour leaning toward five.
From up in the sky above the college I can see our rooftop six miles just north of campus to the middle of town, where dinner was being prepared when the phone rang.