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Eddie Barnett, age 16, died playing basketball

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  • Eddie Barnett, age 16, died playing basketball

    Athlete who died in game had ailment
    Friday, February 25, 2005
    DAN MOONEY and DAVID AUSTIN

    Eddie Barnett, the Grant High School junior who died suddenly during a league basketball game Wednesday, had an unspecified heart condition that prohibited him from playing scholastic sports as early as his middle school years.

    But Grant and other Portland Public Schools officials said the 16-year-old Barnett had been cleared by a doctor to play basketball and had played on the varsity football team last fall.

    The basketball coach, Tony Broadous, said Barnett had "continually gone to the doctor and was doing what he needed to do."

    Barnett -- known as "Little Eddie" -- died after he collapsed during a Portland Interscholastic League game at Madison High School. His death stung the Grant community, which has lost four students to untimely deaths in less than a year.

    The mood Thursday at Grant was grim. Teachers met early to discuss how to deal with the aftermath of Barnett's death.

    Russell Millage, a close friend and teammate, said he already misses Barnett. "I wasn't going to play basketball this year," Millage said. "But he's the one who really pushed me to come out. It was just the way he was. He just really enjoyed life and basketball."

    Greg Cotton, a Grant teacher who coaches cross country and track, taught Barnett geometry. "It's going to be extremely tough to look at Eddie's chair and know he's not coming back," he said.

    Barnett's death also gave Cotton pause to think about other Grant athletes. "This morning, I double checked all the medical cards on my athletes," Cotton said.

    Principal Toni Hunter said the school is still reeling from the loss of the three other students who died recently.

    Last spring, a student committed suicide. Then in the fall, two girls -- one a member of the varsity volleyball team -- were killed at the tail end of Labor Day weekend in an automobile accident.

    During the game Wednesday night, the stands were packed with boisterous students, parents and other supporters who had come to watch Grant -- a team headed for the state playoffs next week -- take on Madison on the Senators' senior night.

    Collapse on sidelines

    Grant jumped to an early lead that included Barnett, a 5-foot-8 guard, scoring six points. Shortly after being taken out in a routine substitution, he collapsed.

    A relative of Barnett's yelled from the stands, and people surrounded the stricken player.

    Athletic officials said a Madison parent who works as a nurse and another person came to the player's aid and propped him up, took his pulse and made sure he was still breathing.

    No one performed CPR "because he had a pulse and he was breathing on his own," said Greg Ross, the Portland Interscholastic League athletic director, who was not at the game. "I'm not sure whether he was conscious or not but . . . he was moving."

    A Madison official called 9-1-1 at 7:58 p.m., and paramedics arrived three minutes later. They checked for vital signs and performed CPR. Madison officials cleared the gym as paramedics worked on Barnett.

    He was taken by ambulance at 8:21 p.m. to Providence Portland Medical Center, where doctors declared him dead.

    On Thursday, Barnett's coaches and teachers recalled that at least twice doctors told him he couldn't play because of his condition.

    Barnett spent two years at PIL rival Jefferson before he transferred to Grant last fall. His athletic career at Jefferson was delayed as a freshman because a heart condition prevented him from gaining medical clearance to play, said Paul Kelly, Barnett's freshman basketball coach.

    "He was very diligent about wanting to play," Kelly said. "He got a lot of second opinions until he could play."

    Barnett was cleared to play in the Democrats' final freshmen game of the 2002-03 season. As a sophomore, Barnett started for the junior varsity team that went 23-1. "He didn't have any physical problems that year," Kelly said.

    Matt Moule, an eighth-grade teacher at Whitaker Middle School, had Barnett in a class three years ago. He said the two bonded over basketball. He remembers the day that Barnett came to school after visiting a doctor.

    "He told me he could never play again," Moule recalled. "He was really down. I remember seeing him in the gym after that. He was just sitting there on the bench watching the other kids play. I had to stop playing because of a knee injury. But with him, he had to stop playing because he could die."

    Neither Barnett's family members nor Portland Interscholastic League athletic officials would comment Thursday on whether he had a serious medical problem. In an appearance before the media, his parents -- Teena Johnson and Eddie Barnett Sr. -- issued a statement without taking any questions. They said their son died playing the game he loved.

    "He was born in the gym, and he died in the gym," Johnson said. "If you told him he couldn't, he'd do anything to get on the basketball court."

    Physicals required

    Brenda Gustafson, a spokeswoman for the school district, said all athletes must submit to a medical physical every other year. The form must be returned with both a doctor's and a parent's signature.

    In the opposite year, athletes have to fill out a separate form with specific health questions and turn it in with a parent's signature.

    Gustafson said district policy prohibits her from discussing anything in Barnett's student records, including health records. But she said he was cleared to play both football last fall and in the current basketball season.

    "We would never put children in harm's way knowingly," Gustafson said. "The coaches are coaches, not medical doctors. But a doctor cleared him to play."

    Sudden cardiac death in young athletes occurs in about one out of 200,000 high schoolers, according to the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, which tracks such deaths nationally.

    The most common cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle thickens for no obvious reason. The next most common cause is a congenital abnormality of the coronary arteries.

    The Multnomah County medical examiner's office won't conduct an autopsy, a spokesman said, because Barnett died of natural causes from a pre-existing medical condition. That does not rule out an autopsy by either Providence Portland Medical Center, where he died, or Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center, where he had been treated.

    Broadous, the Grant coach, said he wasn't sure whether the team -- which plays Jesuit next week in a Class 4A playoff game -- would continue the season. But Johnson, Barnett's mother, told the team they didn't have a choice.

    "She told us to go out and be strong," said teammate Dominic Waters. "She said this is what Eddie would want us to do."

    Don Colburn and Doug Binder of The Oregonian contributed to this report.
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