Texas high school football coach on leave after conducting strenuous workout

HEATH, Texas — A Texas high school football coach was placed on administrative leave after he was accused of conducting a strenuous offseason workout program that included at least 300 pushups and led to the hospitalization of several players, school district officials said.

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In a letter to parents, Rockwall-Heath High School Principal Todd Bradford said that coach John Harrell required his students to perform “multiple pushups” during an athletics class on Jan. 6, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

A parent of one of the players, who requested anonymity, told The Dallas Morning News that her son had been hospitalized and diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a stress-induced muscle disorder that can cause heart or kidney damage and can be fatal. The woman told the newspaper her son was forced to do between 300 and 400 pushups with no water breaks.

Two other parents told the newspaper that the students did more than 350 pushups. One of the parents said it was during a 60-minute timeframe.

The district would not confirm how many students were hospitalized and did not say what the circumstances surrounding the workout were, WFAA-TV reported.

“Please know the District immediately implemented measures to address the situation and provide support for our students,” Bradford’s letter to parents stated.

Rockwall Independent School District representative Renae Murphy said in a statement to NBC News on Friday that Harrell was placed on administrative leave on Tuesday.

Bradford said the school district is addressing the situation and has retained a third party to investigate “any connection between the activities in class and student illnesses,” the Star-Telegram reported.

Rockwall ISD athletic director Russ Reeves declined to comment to the Morning News. Harrell did not respond to a message seeking comment, according to the newspaper.

Harrell, an assistant for the high school’s football team since joining the staff in 2019, was promoted to head coach in January 2022, the Morning News reported. The team had a 7-5 record during the 2022 season.

Before he was hired at Rockwall-Heath, Harrell was an assistant coach at Stephenville, Midlothian and in the Garland ISD, the Rockwall County Herald-Banner reported. He has also been an offensive coordinator and a head powerlifting coach.

On Monday, students attending the class participated in a recovery workout with a light warm-up and light stretching that was non-strenuous, according to the Morning News.