Three high school football players nearly drown during training, players say coach wouldn’t let lifeguard respond

One of the players said the coach knew some of the kids couldn’t swim, but made them get in the water anyway.

Three high school football players nearly drown during training, players say coach wouldn’t let lifeguard respond
High school football players in Fairbanks, Alaska accuse their coach of forcing players to do training exercises in a pool, aware those players didn't know how to swim. Three players needed CPR at the scene and spent the night in a hospital. (Source: Gray News)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF/Gray News) - High school football players are accusing their head coach of putting them in a dangerous situation during a training exercise.

Three students with the West Valley Wolfpack football program in Fairbanks, Alaska, spent the night in a hospital after nearly during drowning during a training exercise at the University of Alaska Fairbanks swimming pool.

Those three students were released from the hospital, but their current condition is unclear.

School administrators and police are investigating what happened.

According to players involved in the training, they were doing an exercise that involved wearing a sweater in the pool, removing it and then putting the sweater back on while in the deep end.

Two witnesses at the training exercise spoke to KTVF about what they saw.

One of those witnesses (Eyewitness 1) said six of the students told head coach Roy Hessner that they didn't know how to swim, but that Hessner made them get in the water anyway.

“For like the first five or like 10 seconds, everyone was like good, I guess," said Eyewitness 1. “Then like 15 seconds in, people were like just struggling, like struggling, struggling. There is kids screaming at the top of their lungs for help ... the lifeguard that was there, she was trying to get in, but our head coach he told her, ‘It’s ok, they’ve got it on their own.'”

Three students required CPR after they were pulled from the water. All three students went to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment and an overnight stay, according to a press release from the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

At least one students sank to the bottom. Eyewitness 1 said he watched the lifeguard try to pull that student up, but at first, she couldn't.

“I started crying, because I just didn’t know what was going on. They pulled one kid out and his arms were just stiff. He was just stiff. He wasn’t moving. I just started bawling my eyes out because I genuinely thought he was dead. ...They pulled the last kid out, I thought he was dead because he was purple and he wasn’t moving at all. Everyone there was pretty much bawling their eyes out and either mad or just sad that this was going on," said Eyewitness 1.

According to another witness (Eyewitness 2), they trained for more than an hour and a half before Hessner told them to put on the sweaters.

According to a post on the West Valley High School website, this 3-day camp was listed as mandatory. On page 83 of the Alaska Schools Activities Association handbook, it states:

“The coach or other personnel representing the school is prohibited from requiring any athlete to participate in an out-of-season sport, training program, or travel team as a condition of selection for the in-season team.”

Eyewitness 2 said Hessner also told players the camp was mandatory if they wanted any time on the field in the upcoming season.

“He said, 'You have to be there if you want to play or earn your pads during this camp,'” said Eyewitness 2.

According to both witnesses, Hessner did not jump into the water.

“I saw him on the phone, but then after that he didn’t do anything. I didn’t see him help any, because pretty much every coach that was there was either going into the water grabbing a kid or they were outside the pool talking to kids calming them down and he just didn’t talk to any kids at all," said Eyewitness 1.

“The coach is just standing there. Three coaches and the lifeguard jumped in because they saw three kids still in there," said Eyewitness 2.

“If the coaches didn’t jump in, I really think that some kids would have died then, or if the lifeguard didn’t jump in first, kids would have died.” said Eyewitness 1.

The school suspended all preseason activities for the football team, but they will start the football season as regularly scheduled.

A new coaching staff was put together to start the season. A teacher in the area with experience coaching football and wrestling at the high school is serving as acting head coach.

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