The Capital reported this week that South River High School football coach Steve Erxleben has resigned after nine years in the football program.
Earlier this year, Erxleben was suspended from his coaching position. At the time, there were allegations from parents and others close to the situation that Erxleben may have been negligent in his duties by failing to attend to an injured player. The end result from the school, with very little comment, was a four game suspension.
Chris Carros was that player. Chris and his parents contacted Eye On Annapolis wanting to tell their side of the story which they feel has been pushed into the background. Initially after the injury, the family had contemplated a lawsuit. However, legal council advised that proving gross negligence would be very difficult in this case. However, the Carros family does want their story told and would like to see some changes made to ensure that another child’s athletic dreams are not left lying on the sidelines of a football field.
In late October we received a Facebook message from Christopher Carros:
It may seem a little bit creepy as to why I am sending this message. A kid with one mutual friend. WTH? I am writing this because I was on www.hometownannapolis.com today reading about Coach Erxleben’s suspension and its comments and what not. And I saw you are a frequent poster who is curious.
Well, I am the player that got injured. Don’t believe me? Well maybe telling you that I am sitting here in a full back brace with a compound fracture at L1-L2 and another at T12-L1 with an acute fracture at L3 in my spine. Not to mention numbness in my leg, and 2 bulging discs.
What really happened that day, (just to keep you informed even if it’s late) I ran a 10 yard and out pattern, jumped to catch the ball, got hit on awkwardly and twisted when I landed. I did get up right after because I am tough, and that is what makes me a great football player. When I got up, it was the most excruciating pain in my life. But I didn’t show it, yet. The team then huddled up and I asked a coach for ice, he said “no we don’t have any I don’t think.” We then broke out the team and went to position individuals.
I immediately layed on the side crying and holding my back, while coach Kevin Lambert continued to instruct not a team, but 4 players on what to do, without a doubt he saw me in pain.
Practice ended 10 minutes later, recieving no questions from the coaches. After being carried off the field by 2 of my fellow team mates still crying I told Coach Erxleben “I’m going to the hospital for my back” as a coach the first thing you learn is to get them on a stretcher and ambulence immediately, instead he replied with “OK, let me know how it goes.”
By the way, no matter what people say on the blog, it happened 8/16 and I checked into the hospital August 16th at 6:43, approximately one hour after it happened. After my father had to take me to the hospital, I recieved 2 MRI’s and texted Coach Erxleben that morning and said and i quote “Hey coach erx, it’s Carros. The first MRI shows I have a compression fracture and bulging disc in my back and nerve damage can’t feel my leg. Most likely cannot ever play football again.”
He responded with simply “Sorry to hear that, you would have helped us this year. We will talk when you get out.” this was at 11:33 am the next day.
Mr. Klingel did not even hear about this until Friday. One of his athletes lays paralyzed in a hospital bed and he doesn’t know? Hmm. Coach Erxleben was called into a meeting with Principal Myers and Erxleben bold face lied to him and said “we iced him up and he said he was just a little stiff.” I sware by the holy bible on my life that did not happen.
You may ask how was I cleared to play football this year with the same injury last year? Once again, do not listen to rumors. Last year I suffered a lower left back bruise. This year I suffored an injury with no correlation to that one at all.
I have waited long to tell the truth because there was a pending lawsuit. But you know what? You cannot press charges for being a neglegant asshole. I am back in school finally, two months later but my life will never be the same. Take this how you want, I just thought maybe someone with such good insight and interest should know the real story to form an opinion.
Certainly the injured party’s version indicates that some major balls were dropped off the field of play and bring us many questions regarding the entire process of reporting and, more importantly, acting on any suspected injury sustained in a high school competition.
Chris’s brother, Alex was also a standout athlete at South River and is currently at West Point and sent this following email to South River’s Athletic Director Dave Klingel on August 20, 2010 (4 days after the injury) to voice his concern over the treatment of his younger brother:
Good evening coach. It still seems like only a couple months ago we were at UMBC picking up that state championship trophy. But this email is not directed towards that subject or the matter of lacrosse. This email is about my brother and my friend. The friend who lays paralyzed from the waist down in a hospital bed with a cracked vertebrae, a bulging disc in his back, and the inability to feel his own legs or let alone walk.
Throughout my time at South River High, I represented that school with the utmost loyalty and integrity. I led by example and helped build a winning and honorable reputation at that school. As I sit here today at the finest institution in the world, I still represent South River High and South River athletics as they should be represented. Respectfully, honorably, and with pride.
This situation has made me second guess that pride and that honor. Although I know this was a freak accident and it could have happened to anyone and this email could be out impulse because the person on the receiving end of this accident was my brother, action must be taken. Here at West Point and in the Army, we live by certain set of values. Now I know South River High is not the Army or West Point, but I do know that when the well-being and safety of your players is not number one priority and someone puts winning football games before the safety of their players, then something is wrong. Someone must be accountable for their actions when things like this do happen.
At the West Point we live by the Honor Code. ” A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” In this case we look at my brother. One of the toughest kids I know and probably the toughest kid at his age that you or I will ever meet. When my brother is blind-sided in “non-contact” drill and is injured to the extent that he is crying on the sideline than something is not right. Yes, it is football and people get hurt. But the fact that he was not attended to, he had to be carried off the field by his teammates , he was not looked at by a trainer or any of the coach staff, and this injury was not reported to high authority (i.e. yourself or Principal Myers) is just a shock to me. At West Point we call that lying. A violation which leads to separation from the academy.
Now I write this email late at night because it has taken me most of the day to think about what I was going to say to you. I could have used profound language and acted out of anger, but I know that’s not the right thing to do. What I am simply asking is that take a look at your football program and the state that it is in. Take a look at your trainers and the care they provide for the injured or hurt. I want you to reassess all these things and ask yourself, “Are these people all about t he kids, being safe, and having fun or are they about themselves and just winning.” As a division one lacrosse player, I know that at this level it’s all about winning games, but the safety of your players does come first and when situations like this happen and nothing is done about then there are serious ramifications to follow. But we are talking high school football here. At a high school that hasn’t had a winning record in football in last five to seven years.
In the Army, as part of the Warrior Ethos we live by a set of values. One of those values states, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Chris Carros was left behind. The negligence of the coaching staff and training staff not to seek action in this situation is absolutely unacceptable. If your kid was on the sideline with a broken back, a ruptured disc, and numbness in his legs and he was not even attended to, would you be mad? I would imagine that you would be. I ask of you and I challenge you to look across the board, not at just football, but all sports at South River High and see if the right people are in place. People who do the right thing when no one is looking and people who choose the harder right over the easier wrong. Chris Carros was and still is a great athlete and an even better person. I expected him to be treated the way he ought to be treated. The way I was treated at South River High. With the respect and the utmost of decency that you would towards any person or athlete. In this situation, this was not the case.
Cadet Alexander Carros A-1, Class of 2014
Go Army, Beat Navy!
At the time of the incident, a spokesperson from the school district was quoted in The Baltimore Sun:
The issue for us is, when it comes to athletics, safety of the student-athletes is of paramount importance. When an issue comes to our attention that concerns that, we’re going to act in a manner that protects as much as possible the safety and well-being of the student-athletes.
–Anne Arundel County Public Schools Spokesperson, Bob Mosier
We contacted Anne Arundel County Public Schools seeking comment (we provided an advance copy of this article as well) and spokesman Bob Mosier declined to offer any additional comment, other than to re-emphasize his statement above.
While no one can say that Chris would have made a complete recovery if prompt medical attention had been rendered; the fact remains that had it been rendered, the school, the coach, and the players would have known they had done all they could in the face of the situation. But it seems like it did not happen that way which leaves several questions unanswered.
- Why didn’t Coach Erxleben call for an ambulance or seek medical attention for an injured player on August 16, 2010?
- Even if Coach Erxleben was unaware of the extent of the injury on the field, why didn’t he notify Athletic Director Dave Klingel of the injury when he was made aware of the severity from the injured player by text message on August 16, 2010?
- Mr. Myers first learned of the injury from Chris’s father (not his staff) on August 20th. How did this breakdown in communication occur? What steps have been taken to make sure it does not happen again?
- After learning of the injury (and lack of reporting the injury) why did it take an additional 4 days for the school to take action and suspend Coach Erxleben?
- Athletic Director Klingel called and visited Chris in the hospital when he found out about the injury on August 20th. Why didn’t Coach Erxleben have the same concern, especially when he had been aware of the injury for nearly a week?
Nearly 4 months after the injury, Chris Carros is still recovering. He spent two months in a brace which kept his body in a straight line and was recently cleared to begin some light weight lifting and participation in some non-contact sports. When discussing his restrictions, Chris seemed cautiously optimistic, “Most likely I will never be able to play any type of contact sport–the only good ones. But for now, I guess I am almost fully recovered. There is still a constant pain whenever I sit for over 5 minutes. When I straighten out my back it cracks and causes pain. But everything is slowly working its way back to normal. I hope.”
Have our public schools migrated to the point where athletics play such a large part that they trump learning? On the surface it might be the case especially when you look at recent incidents involving athletes at Northeast, Annapolis and South River High Schools. Erxleben is on his way out and ultimately that may be a good thing for the school and the athletic programs. However, a thorough review of the programs is in order along with clearly defined standard operating procedures for all types of injuries. It is inexcusable that a student, who quite legitimately may have had a shot at a professional football career, was left on the sidelines writhing in pain with a broken back while his Coach, the man to whom he look up to, disregarded his pleas for help.