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‘Kind of Overexaggerating’: Students Defend Dallas High School Football Coach In Response to Eight Players Being Hospitalized After Doing 400 Pushups As Punishment

A Dallas high school has launched a third-party investigation into an incident where the football coach made students do hundreds of pushups during gym class as punishment.

As a result of the strenuous exercise regime, eight youths needed medical attention with at least one being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a serious medical condition that occurs when damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins and electrolytes into the blood; it can result in permanent disability or death.

Dallas high school football team hospitalized
A Dallas high school football coach is suspended and under investigation after 8 students were hospitalized following pushup exercise (WFAA Screengrab)

Rockwall-Heath High School administration has suspended its head football coach, John Harrell, while it conducts an extensive review, after he was accused of forcing students to over-exert themselves during eighth-period athletic class on Friday, Jan. 6, the Daily Mail reports.

Most of the students in the class were on his football team and this was considered an off-season workout.

Allegedly eight teens in his class were made to do 300 to 400 pushups without breaks for an hour straight. The students were not even allowed to stop to get water during the intense workout.

This is in dispute by some players, who said they were actually instructed to do sets of 16 pushups with a 20-second to 30-second rest. One varsity player who spoke with NBC 5 News said he considered the activities to be “normal football stuff.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, principal Todd Bradford addressed the situation in a letter to Rockwall-Heath football parents, addressing the various complaints he received at the top of the week regarding their children.

“On Monday, January 9, 2023, several parents reported that their student(s) subsequently needed medical attention, and in some cases, hospitalization. Please know the District immediately implemented measures to address the situation and provide support for our students,” he wrote in the correspondence.

He said the district moved to immediately implement “measures to address the situation and provide support for our students. To thoroughly investigate any connection between activities in class and student illnesses.”

Bradford continued to inform parents that “an independent third-party” has been brought in to investigate the incident and that they are contacting the “appropriate outside agencies” to determine if any abuse was committed to the students.

He asked for the parents to contact him if their children are experiencing symptoms like struggling to bend or extend their arms, lifting their arms over their heads, feeling sharp arm pain, or if their urine appeared dark like the color of tea or cola.

One of the teens’ parents said her son, who plays on the football team, was one of the kids forced to participate in the class. She took her son to the hospital afterward and doctors said he developed rhabdomyolysis. 

The severity of the other seven students’ injuries has not been disclosed and because they are all minors, most of their names have not been shared with the public.

Barry Luff, a junior player who was at the workout, shared with Fox 4 News that the coach didn’t mean any harm.

“I’m praying for all the sides that are in the hospital. They’re my brothers,” Luff said.

“He’s treated us with nothing but respect,” he said, adding, “and he loves every single one of us like his own.”

In another interview with WFAA, Luff shared how the coach went to the hospital with the injured students and stayed “all night with those boys,” checking on their well-being.

He also said the students were free to leave if they wanted to and that the couch “would never made us do a workout thinking that it was going to put any of us at risk.”

Stephanie Luff, Barry’s mother, chimed in and said, “So, if anything was going on with this situation that I thought these kids were being harmed, I would’ve been the first person up at the principal’s office or wherever I needed to go to have this shut down.”

Some of the athletes, specifically those who are on the team, are worried that the incident will have an effect on the team’s morale.

Caden Washburn, a senior and former football player said, “I just felt like there was a few kids, you know, that, you know, it didn’t work well with the push-ups.”

He then defended the coach, calling him a fair coach and saying, “(Coaches) have expectations for everyone. (Coach Harrell) is hardworking. I mean, he pushes. He sees potential in everyone.”

“I feel like people were kind of overexaggerating the situation because Coach Harris was really not like that kind of a person,” Washburn said.

The district is checking to see if there is any over-exaggeration, saying it is in contact with the parents and students impacted by the workout. It has not specifically commented on the investigation.

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