PHOENIX — A cloud loomed over Moon Valley High School Monday as students and staff mourned the loss of one of their own. Carlos Sanchez was a junior at the school and a player on the varsity football team. During Friday’s game, he collapsed on the field after a play that resulted in his head hitting the ground hard.
“Carlos Sanchez, not because of his death, but because of how he lived, has made each and every person on our team a better person,” coach Seth Millican said to media Monday morning.
Moon Valley’s campus could be described as a sea of blue Monday as students decided to wear the color in Sanchez’s honor. The students encouraged other schools that were participating by wearing blue to share pictures of their support on Twitter.
“Our school community is saddened by the news of Carlos’ passing. We extend our deepest condolences to Carlos’ family and friends during this difficult time,” the Glendale Union High School District said in a statement.
David Hines, the executive director at the Arizona Interscholastic Association, said the school followed all of the protocols set forth by the AIA and executed the emergency plan they had drawn up.
“They had their athletic trainer, a doctor on site. They immediately went out and took the measures that are prescribed to handle a head injury (and) 911 was called immediately, so they had emergency vehicles,” he said. “They brought the ambulance right onto the field and transported the individual really quickly, which is critical in any type of medical condition.”
Hines said Sanchez’s death was not a result of head-to-head contact.
“It was a clean play where the young man went back and hit his head on the ground and even the officials didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary other than when he tried to get back to the huddle he collapsed,” Hines said.
Although any sports-related death is one too many, concussion specialist Javier Cardenas said that last year there were less deaths from catastrophic head injuries in sports than in years past. According to Cardenas, there are between five to 10 deaths on average each year on the high school level. Last year, the number dropped to three.
Cardenas attributes this drop to the amount of education athletes are receiving about concussions. Student athletes are given a “Brain Book” containing information about signs of a concussion and the dangers and risks involved with sports. The coaches are also responsible for ensuring a “pre-contest medical preparedness” action plan is in place. Despite all of these measures, Cardenas feels that there’s more work to still be done.
“We could always be doing more,” he said. “We can always provide more education. We can always look at rules and regulations to reduce the amounts of contacts that can work to identify the sports and activities that have the highest rates of injury, to look at the plays that are causing these injuries.”
Meanwhile, the district was working with the school to provide support, said Kim Mesquita, spokesperson for Glendale Union High School District.
“We do have a team of social workers on campus today to support our students, faculty and staff,” Mesquita said.
Monday morning, Millican spoke with the public for the first time since the event.
“Carlos Sanchez was the very best of us. He was the best we had to offer. He was a constant force of hard work and selflessness on our team,” Millican said. “He had a 200-pound heart stuffed into a 170-pound body.”
According to Mesquita, the decision had not been made regarding if the team would be practicing today or not. When asked if the team had decided to play in the final game of the season Friday, Mesquita said, “That has yet to be determined.”
Hines said the organization is willing to work with Moon Valley to provide the school with whatever it may need.
“We are working with the school and the family to help as much as we can,” Hines said. “We have already communicated to the school that if they wanted to extend the halftime or if they needed to do something pregame, or if they wanted a decal or something that we would have no issue with that. Whatever they can do to help the kids and the community of Moon Valley, we are 100 percent behind them.”
Hines said that the AIA would be understanding if the school opted not to play this Friday against Peoria, and no fine would be imposed.
A candlelight vigil has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday night on the quad at Moon Valley High School. The Rocket Boosters have also set up a go fund me account for those who wish to donate to the Sanchez family. To contribute, visit https://www.gofundme.com/cs33strong.