MOREHEAD CITY — Members of the West Carteret football team will be safer on the field this season, thanks to the Do It For Drew Foundation.
The nonprofit organization recently donated $2,500 to the program, which used that money to purchase eight high-end helmets. Do It For Drew Foundation stickers will be affixed to the back of them.
“We got Riddell Revolution Speed helmets, and they are near the top of the line,” West coach David Barrow said. “It’s got a few more bells and whistles than the standard helmet, and every little bit helps.”
The helmets feature a patented-side impact protection with a quick release face mask attachment system, custom inflation and an overliner for proper fit, comfort and stability. It costs nearly $300.
“Football is such an expensive sport,” Barrow said. “To outfit one player with helmets, pads, jerseys, it’s $700-800. And that is just one player. We have 80 in our program, and I want to have that many and more. I’d love to have 100 next year, but the cost is crazy.”
Drew Hughes, 13, of Emerald Isle, died on June 29, 2013, a few hours after sustaining a head injury while skateboarding. The head injury wasn’t the cause of his death, however, as he was intubated as a precaution for transport to a larger hospital. During the transport, his tube was placed in his esophagus instead of his trachea depriving him of oxygen for 30 minutes, leading to his death.
His father, David, and mother, Kimberly, have created the foundation in his honor to bring awareness and education regarding emergency care, create sports and education opportunities for Hughes’ peers, and to above all, honor their son’s legacy with their own lives.
“Drew loved football,” David said. “And so when we heard about this need, we jumped on it. It happened pretty quickly.”
Hughes touched many lives in his short 13 years. He played football with Jayme Kerstein’s son and was friends with Susan Sullivan’s daughter. Those two are members of the West Carteret boosters, and they wanted to make sure the football players were as safe as possible.
“We want all of our kids in the best helmets available, but they are very expensive,” Sullivan said. “We started fundraising, and we reached out to David and asked if he could help and he said, ‘Absolutely. Just give us some time.’”
The foundation has proven a big help to many in the area and will continue to do so. The next big donation will come in the form of the organization’s first scholarship in the amount of $10,000.
The character-based scholarship is already funded and will be given in June to a member of the graduating class at Croatan High School that Hughes would have been part of had he lived. Do It For Drew is working toward funding future scholarships as well with plans to make it an annual deal.
It has donated $500 to Croatan High School for its “Go for The Gold 5K” and donated more than $800 to Newport Pop Warner to sponsor nine kids to participate in football and cheer who were having difficulties with registration fees.
“Sports was a big part of Drew’s life, and all of our sons’ lives,” David said. “It changes the lives of a lot of kids, takes them down a different path.”
Sports has certainly played a role in the family. And concussions came with those athletic performances.
Hughes’ older brother, Brewer, suffered a nasty concussion in his senior year at Croatan and failed to remember half of the game.
“That was scary,” David said. “I felt strongly that this would be a good thing to do to, to help West out in this way to guard against concussions.”
An estimated 300 ,000 sport-related traumatic brain injuries, predominantly concussions, occur annually in the United States. Sports are second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of traumatic brain injury among people age 15-24.
Concussions represent nearly 9 percent of all high school athletic injuries with nearly 41 percent of those occurring in football. Girls soccer has the next highest rate of concussions for high school athletes at 22 percent, followed by boys soccer (15 percent) and girls basketball (10 percent).
“Concussions are such a big thing now, and we’re trying to put kids in the best possible helmet we can,” Barrow said. “The booster club, and coach (Todd) Nelson have pushed this for years. They wanted to get top-of-the-line helmets, and it’s something we want to try and keep going. We’re grateful to the Hughes (family) for this gift.”
Concussions have been at the forefront of sports news for much of the past decade, and North Carolina has been front and center in those headlines.
Jaquan Waller, a player at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, died during a game in 2008 after being tackled. He suffered a concussion during practice earlier in the week. Matthew Gfeller of Winston-Salem’s R.J. Reynolds High School died that same year after being hit in a game.
The two deaths prompted the state General Assembly to pass the Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act in 2011.
The law requires every public middle school and high school in the state to educate players, coaches and parents about concussions. The law requires each school to develop an emergency action plan and implement a post-concussion, six-stage protocol that must be completed before a player with a suspected injury can return to play or practice.
And just as the deaths of Gfeller and Waller have made a difference in the lives of scores of athletes, the Do It For Drew Foundation hopes to use their son’s life and his untimely death to affect change.
“Our No. 1 goal is to bringing awareness and education regarding emergency care in rural communities like our own to help prevent other families from going through what we’ve had to endure,” David said.
The family filed a legal complaint against Carteret General Hospital after Hughes’ death, and the case reached its legal conclusion nearly a year later with the announcement of an out-of-court settlement.
David and Kimberly have since devoted their lives to educating the healthcare community on emergency care.
They have spoken to respiratory therapy and EMS classes at community colleges from Morehead City to Boone and stops in between.
They are working on plans to travel to Daytona, Fla., as well as Virginia Beach, Va., to the State EMS Symposium and are also working on plans to head to Nashville, Tenn., next year to speak. Many programs like the N.C. State Emergency Medicine Program and the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care in Los Angeles use Hughes’ story to teach the importance of proper emergency care.