by: Diana Davis Updated:
The family of a 16-year-old who died during football practice is now suing Ben Hill County.
D.J. Searcy played football in Ben Hill at Fitzgerald High School. He passed out and died last year from a heat-related illness after a round of intensive drills at the school's football camp in Florida. The heat index was 100 degrees.
“I wish I could get him back, but I know that if I save one more, then maybe I can continue,” Searcy’s mother, Michelle, told Channel 2’s Diana Davis.
The Searcys’ lawyer, Ben Crump, said 11 high school football players across the United States died from heat-related illness last year, including three in Georgia. He believes the deaths can be prevented.
Partly because of Searcy's death, the Georgia High School Football Association now has new rules limiting practice in severe heat. On Monday, a trainer who helped push for the rules told Davis some coaches are resisting the changes.
That’s why the Searcys and their lawyer are pushing for new state legislation. Crump wants rule violators to face consequences, “'Hey if you're not going to follow this, we are going to ban you from football or we're going to hold you accountable criminally,'” he said.
In tears, the Searcys said their son had also passed out the day before he died but was told by his coaches to push on. The family said coaches threatened teammates with more drills in the heat if he didn’t continue.
Searcy’s father, Carlton, told Davis, “D.J. kept telling them, 'Hey coach, I'm cramping. I can't do it anymore,' but they kept calling him names.”
The Searcys said they'll do whatever they can to prevent the death of one more child.
“It's wrong. Who holds these people accountable?” Carlton Searcy said.
A new device called a wet bulb, along with the new rules, are expected to help Georgia football players beat the heat. Each school is required to use wet bulbs at practice to measure the heat and humidity on the field.
Teams are prevented from outside activity if it reads 92 degrees or higher. There's also a three-hour limit for practice in full pads. Beginning in August, Georgia coaches who don't follow the new guidelines can be fined between $500 and $1,000.
As for that Fitzgerald High coach, he was not punished in connection with the boy's death and has moved on to a coaching job at a high school in Coffee County.