The death of a 16-year-old Sachem High School East football player during a training drill Thursday has state and local athletic officials considering a review of football safety guidelines.
“Any time there’s a tragedy, we always have a discussion,” said Pat Pizzarelli, the executive director of Section VIII, the governing body of Nassau County athletics. “We don’t want anything to ever happen to our student athletes. Of course they’ll be more discussion. There has to be.”
The fatal injury occurred when a log fell on Joshua Mileto’s head during workouts on school grounds in Farmingville, police said. Mileto was taking part in a military-style log-carrying drill — a demanding exercise that athletic training experts said they would not recommend for high school athletes.
“It’s Navy SEALs-type training stuff,” said Russ Taveras, who is the director of training at Infiniti Sports Performance in Bellport. “If somebody loses their balance or grip, there’s an obvious concern of dangers, especially if it’s a very heavy log.”
Tavares, who has a doctorate in physical therapy from Stony Brook, has trained the Lindenhurst High School football team for a decade.
“It’s something we haven’t done in 10 years with Lindenhurst,” Tavares said. “Not once.”
Stony Brook University head football coach Chuck Priore said his team does not do the log-carrying drill, but several of his players said they had heard of it. Priore added that he was not aware of all the details involving what happened to Mileto.
“Knowing the coach there and knowing Long Island football, I’m sure it was organized and I’m sure it was structured,” Priore said. “And unfortunately, a freak accident cost us a life, a young life we’re not going to get back. . . . I think it’s most important for all of us to understand and learn something from it, but not critique it.”
Sachem East head coach Mark Wojciewchowski has not commented publicly since Mileto’s death.
Newsday spoke with 15 high school football coaches from across Long Island, none of whom said they have used the log-carry drill in football workouts. Creative workouts they use, coaches say, involve tossing medicine balls, flipping large rubber tires or hitting tires with a sledgehammer.
“Sure, we’ve used a sledgehammer on a tire in small groups at times,” said Newfield coach Joe Piccininni. “But what we concentrate on is functional shifting and balance in our core exercises.”
Size, strength and speed are an integral of football, so year-round workouts are necessary for players to succeed, even at the high school level.
“Coaches are always looking for a strength advantage,” said East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi. “We’re lucky because we have an outstanding weight room, and we bond through time spent in that weight room in the off-season. . . . I’m not against those workouts, but I know that I’m in the weight room every day and that’s where I build our relationships and camaraderie.”
Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County athletics, said the only rule regarding offseason workouts is that they not be mandatory. Strength and conditioning workouts are open to the interpretation of the individuals schools, Combs said.
“We would definitely review anything that we are doing, and, after examining all the facts, we would make some form of a decision based on the safety for our student athletes,” Combs said.
Robert Zayas, the executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, said that while improved safety will be discussed, it can be difficult to set guidelines for conditioning workouts.
“When you talk about creating rules and regulations for conditioning, it’s a much more difficult task than it sounds,” Zayas said. “Do you limit the amount of pushups and sit-ups? . . . The variables are very extensive when it comes to the types of drills and conditioning workouts that are available to coaches.”
Zayas added: “The incident occurred just a little more than 24 hours ago. I think we have to offer our support and assistance at this point in time and determine next steps once we have an opportunity to work with the school, the section, our safety committee, and our football committee to determine if there needs to be anything that needs to be done.”
None of the three school officials interviewed knew much about the log-carrying drill or how many schools might be doing it.
Athletic training experts said the drill requires a high level of strength and conditioning.
“You have to hoist that thing over your head,” Tavares said, “so you have the upper body involved. Then the core and the legs are moving, so you need stability to hold that thing over your head. It [needs to] create stability through a team effort, which is very dynamic and not easy to control. When you have legs moving through uneven ground, that makes it a little extreme at times.”
Mike Mejia, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who owns B.A.S.E Sports Conditioning in Syosset, agreed.
“If you’re going to do something like that, you’re going to do it with older, higher level or even professional athletes,” Mejia said. “It’s certainly not something, despite the team-building and camaraderie aspect, that I would implement with high school athletes.
“There’s just way too much that could go wrong. From a risk-reward standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Bob O’Malley, president of the New York State Athletic Trainers Association, said he had never seen the drill used “in an athletic setting.”
“If you think about the genesis of that drill, it’s designed to build teamwork among potential Navy SEALs,” he said. “In that sense it doesn’t seem appropriate for a high school football players to be practicing that.”
With Gregg Sarra, Jim Baumbach and Nick Klopsis