Just 10 days shy of his 18th birthday, Ronald Rouse, a beloved South Carolina high school football player, died suddenly Friday night after he collapsed on the field during a game and then collapsed again on the sidelines.
Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee says tentative results from an autopsy done Saturday suggest Ronald Rouse died of a fatal sudden cardiac arrhythmia (a sudden irregular heartbeat) brought upon by a congenital enlarged heart (because he was born with an enlarged heart), according to the coroner’s report.
Hardee ruled the manner of death as natural, CountOn2.com reported.
Rouse, an 17-year-old senior defensive end for the top-ranked Hartsville football team, collapsed twice during the second quarter of Hartsville’s homecoming game against Crestwood at Kelleytown Stadium, the Morning News of Florence reported.
With just over five minutes left before halftime, several Hartsville Red Fox defenders, including Rouse gang-tackled Crestwood running back Jason McDaniel, stopping him for a short gain.
As the players got up from the pile, Rouse remained on the ground, motionless.
Coaches and athletic trainers circled the players as he lay on the ground. Several minutes passed and calls were made to get assistance, the Morning News reported.
According to Audrey Childers, public information officer for the Darlington County School District, three of the people who assisted Rouse were team doctors, and a fourth was a doctor who was a spectator in the stands. There were also two certified athletic trainers providing assistance as well, Childers added.
The game resumed
Rouse eventually was helped to his feet and, with arms hanging across the shoulders of both coaches, he made his way to the sidelines.
But as he reached the sidelines, the 6- foot-3, 335-pound Rouse slumped to the ground.
Rouse was holding his chest when he collapsed, according to Fox Carolina news.
Meanwhile, Hartsville ran two plays on offense before the game was halted again as medical staff on site started performing chest compressions on an unresponsive Rouse.
Players and coaches from both sides prayed as medical personnel tended to Rouse.
Medical personnel were able to provide immediate medical assistance, including the use of the school's Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which is always kept on the sidelines during the games, to try shocking his heart, she said.
Fifteen minutes passed before emergency medical personnel arrived and took Rouse to Carolina Pines Hospital.
The game resumed, again
After EMS transported Rouse to the hospital, the players returned to the field and played the 3:39 left on the clock of the second quarter, the Morning News said.
Screenshot via Twitter
Hartsville's football team praying together after Ronald Rouse was taken to the hospital.
At halftime, with the Red Foxes leading 27-7, Hartsville conducted its homecoming celebration and crowned a king and queen.
Following the ceremony, Hartsville Principal Dr. Charles Burry announced over the P.A. system that “due to the seriousness of the injury to the Hartsville player, the game has been suspended.”
In the stands, some shed tears while others quietly made their way out of the stadium. On the sidelines, cheerleaders hugged one another, the Morning News reported.
As the crowd continued to file out, word quickly began to spread that Rouse had died.
Rouse was pronounced dead around 8:45 p.m. Friday night, said Hardee.
A large crowd, including team members still in uniform, gathered later outside the emergency room at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center consoled one another as they waited to express their grief to Rouse’s family.
EMS seeking counsel from their lawyer
On Saturday, questions remained for some who watched Rouse lying on the sidelines from the stands.
From Facebook: "It took a good 15 mins for ems to arrive after the second collapse. There was no ambulance at the stadium."
"we [sic] in the stands were mad at that fact.i will always for the rest of my life be haunted by witnessing this tonight.and i will always wonder if he would have pulled through had an ems been there and gotten him to the hospital fast enough.laying on the ground for around 20 mins before the ambulance arrives while your heart has stopped isnt good."
According to the Darlington County School District spokeswoman Audrey Childers, currently, there are no South Carolina or high school football league laws that require the presence of medical emergency personnel at football games, the Morning News reported.
But Childers did say the Darlington County School District has an agreement with the Lake Robinson Rescue Squad, a volunteer rescue squad, to provide EMS services at Hartsville High’s home football games.
But Friday night the rescue squad was not there.
Saturday, Lake Robinson Rescue Squad director Robin Brock would not comment as to why EMS was not at the field.
He did say the rescue squad is seeking counsel from their lawyer.
The Hartsville family mourns
Screenshot via Twitter
This has been a tough year for Hartville, as it's the third student from Hartsville High School to die unexpectedly this year, the Morning News reported. Senior Jymeke Sanders died in his sleep in April, just a month before graduation. Bay Eaddy, a rising junior, was killed in an automobile accident in June.
“Ronald was a joy to know. He was a big, friendly guy who enjoyed school, playing ball, and life. He was also an intelligent young man, whose perspective on life had some unusual depth for someone of his age,” Hartsville principal Charlie Burry said in a release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his teammates and coaches, his classmates and teachers, and all of his many friends. Our Red Fox Family will miss him greatly.”
ESPN reported that Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington released a statement urging residents "to take a moment and ask God to be with this family, to help them find peace in this chaos, and to help this team deal with the grief and shock of losing a brother."
As news of Rouse's death spread, messages and condolences have poured in from many on social media, MaxPreps sports said.
A Facebook fan page was set up in remembrance of Rouse; it had roughly 3,000 fans in a matter of hours, while hundreds of others like @dcheyene48 tweeted about him.
"I wish I could just talk to him one last time," @dcheyene48 tweeted. "Just one. Fly high Rouse, fly high."