Elizabeth Cook: Notes from the NSMA weekend

Published 6:04 pm Sunday, June 26, 2016

If your affection for Salisbury ever needs a boost, talk to some of the people honored each year at the National Sports Media Association’s annual awards weekend.

For the 57th time, sportscasters and sportswriters from all over the country converged on Salisbury last weekend to take a break from deadlines, pick up awards and talk shop with the biggest sports fans in the country — each other.

“This is a sports Shangri La,” Bob Ryan said at the Monday night banquet. A member of the organization’s Hall of Fame, Ryan writes for The Boston Globe. He’s on the board of NSMA, now headquartered at Catawba College, and said the college has become his second home.

“I’m not sure why Salisbury does this for us, but they do,” Ryan said. “… Let’s make this partnership with Catawba work.”


Sportswriters and sportscasters were the perfect audience Sunday for a program about policies that can help save young athletes’ lives. At a brunch sponsored by the National Athletic Trainers Association, two sports medicine experts presented papers related to high school sports safety.

“We didn’t do enough to save a life in the beginning. … That I’m very sad about,” said Jason Cates, head athletic trainer in Cabot County, the third-largest school district in Arkansas.

Cates traced the state’s gradual awakening to the need for laws regarding school sports safety. Cabot schools have 1,300 student athletes on 81 teams playing the high schools for 18 sports — and 46 AED defibrillators.

Looking at a football player who is 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, can run fast and is wanted by all the colleges, you can forget he’s just 16 years old, Cates said. He’s still a kid and skeletally immature.

Ditto for the tall, lanky guys dunking basketballs in the gym. They are more fragile than they seem.

In January 2008, Little Rock Parkview basketball player Anthony Hobbs collapsed during a game. No one on the scene performed CPR; the school had no AED defibrillator. Hobbs died.

In Hobbs’ memory, the Arkansas legislature passed a bill funding CPR training and AEDs in all schools.

One year later, another player collapsed — in the same gym, playing for the same team.

“Everyone froze,” Cates said. The coach cried in his towel.

The opposing team, however, had an athletic trainer who noticed an AED on the wall. The athletic trainer jumped into action, shocked the player and the young man was saved, Cates said.

The incident proved schools needed more than AEDs and CPR training. They needed emergency action plans so everyone would know who should do what if an athlete collapsed.  Schools have tornado drills, Cates said. They even conduct active-shooter drills. Why not practice their emergency response to an athlete’s collapse?

Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the leading killers of youth athletes. Exertional heat stroke is another, an enemy the state of Arkasas knows all too well.

A crew from PBS’ “Frontline” happened to be working on a story about the state’s highly competitive high school football scene when August heat and rigorous practice overwhelmed two players within two days of each other — Will James at Shiloh Christian School and Tyler Davenport of Lamar High School.

A certified athletic trainer made sure Will was moved inside, out of the heat, put him in a cold shower and covered him with ice.

Lamar High did not have an athletic trainer on hand to help Tyler. Coaches tried to cool him with water and wet towels on the practice field — still in the heat — until an ambulance arrived.

Both were put in medically induced comas in the same ICU at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Will survived; Tyler did not.


Sports can be deadly serious — and amazingly fun. It covers the spectrum of human emotions.

ESPN’s Chris Berman said coming to Salisbury to be named to the NSMA Hall of Fame by his peers — people who do it for a living,  who get it, he said  — meant “much more to me than any posh New York celebration.”

Berman has been with ESPN from the beginning. At first, he said, they were “rebels without a clue.” Next May, he will have been in sports broadcasting for 40 years — underpaid for 20 and overpaid for 20, he said.

The longevity proves something, he said.

“If you do something with genuine enthusiasm, people will give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.