A former college football team physician and the lawyer representing the family of former Garden City Community College football player Braeden Bradforth say they are still seeking answers about the circumstances of the sudden death of the teenager after a conditioning practice on Aug. 1.

The first answer they were looking for was why Bradforth died after a football practice, and the answer came from an autopsy report released Nov. 28 that stated Bradforth died of exertional heat stroke, something that former team physician at the University of Oklahoma Randy Eichner said “should never occur in college football.”

Eichner, also a professor emeritus of medicine at Oklahoma and a co-chair of an NCAA task force researching deaths of football players, has been providing his expertise to Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, and her lawyer, Jill Greene.

“Our understanding is that that day he had been involved in two practices,” Greene said Thursday. “The latter practice was a conditioning practice. With that information, we need to get further information, which we are pursuing. We are in touch with the police department, and we reached out to the school, but it’s been a slow process.”

Bradforth, 19, was found unresponsive following the Aug. 1 evening football practice and was transported to St. Catherine Hospital at 10:36 p.m., about an hour after the end of practice, the autopsy report stated. He was pronounced dead at 11:06 p.m.

“We just want justice for Braeden and his mother, and his family,” Greene said.

Justice could come in the form of a lawsuit, Greene said, but none has been filed yet.

“Our understanding is that this is something that could have been prevented. We need to have further information about what occurred prior to Braeden suffering heat stroke,” Greene said. “What was the nature of the practice that he was involved in, and any other information we can get before we make that decision.”

College interim President Ryan Ruda did not return a call seeking comment Friday, and had previously declined to comment on Wednesday, referring to the statement the institution released on Wednesday, acknowledging the autopsy report’s findings and announcing an ongoing review.

College officials have not said how wide the scope of the review is or who is leading it.

Former GCCC head football coach Jeff Sims, who is now the head coach at Missouri Southern State University, also said he would not comment until the review is complete.

According to Eichner, more than 33 college football players have died during conditioning sessions since 2000, which includes Bradforth.

According to a study performed by the Journal of Athletic Training, exertional heat stroke is most likely during the “first 14 days of practice, especially during the first 7 days” when the temperature was greater than 82 degrees.

“Sports medicine personnel should take all the necessary preventive measures to reduce the (exertional heat stroke) risk during the first 14 days of practice and when the environmental conditions are greater than 82” degrees," the report said.

Eichner said that the temperature of that evening (82 degrees when Bradforth likely started practice, with GCCC historically splitting practice early during fall camp into two groups — one from 6:30 to 8 and another from 8 to 9:30), the jump in altitude from Bradforth’s home of Neptune, N.J., and Garden City (an increase of 2,800 feet) and Bradforth’s size, 6-feet-4, 300 pounds, meant Bradforth had an increased likelihood of exertional heat stroke.

Eichner also said it should have been prevented.

“The tragic death of Braeden Bradforth — which could and should have been avoided — raises serious questions about GCCC football, and maybe even raises the question of reckless endangerment, led by head coach Jeff Sims,” Eichner said.

He referenced Jordan McNair, 19, the former University of Maryland player who also died of exertional heat stroke on May 29 after participating in a team workout.

Eichner says he needs more information that provides context for Bradforth’s death, to include:

• An “honest timeline of events;”

• a “detailed description” of the conditioning session;

• how “Braeden looked toward the end of that session,” and whether he needed help finishing any drills or was forced to finish, and if he vomited on the field, was coherent and walking steadily;

• the circumstances of who found Bradforth in the dorm and how his condition was;

• and what did the college’s athletic staff do to treat Bradforth before emergency medical services arrived to transport him to the hospital.

But Greene says that she’s getting fewer responses from GCCC officials and other potential witnesses since the autopsy report’s release.

“People are becoming less and less responsive as the media has gotten word of this, and there’s reports coming out and talk of a lawsuit. People are withdrawing,” she said. “That’s becoming a bit of a problem. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep moving forward.”

 

Contact J. Levi Burnfin at lburnfin@gctelegram.com.