Rockwall-Heath parents, football players defend head coach at school board meeting

ROCKWALL, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) — Rockwall ISD held a school board meeting Tuesday evening where dozens of parents and student athletes spoke in defense of the Rockwall-Heath head football coach. 

Coach John Harrell was placed on administrative leave last week pending a district investigation into several players having to be hospitalized after an offseason workout. Some players reported developing Rhabdomyolysis after doing 400 pushups in addition to other workouts. 

“He loves everybody,” freshman football player Tyler Marsh said. “He respects everyone like his own family.”

Marsh said the team technically did 368 pushups over the course of about an hour.

“We weren’t doing something right so that part is really on us because we were messing up,” he said. “It wasn’t the coaches.”

Marsh’s father, Gene, said football is a full contact sport and is just a brutal game.

Dr. Osehotue Okojie’s son was one of several players hospitalized after the workout, having developed Rhabdo.

“I think it’s very important that we need to stress health versus just solely focusing on winning,” Dr. Okojie said. “Are we winning at what cost?” 

Rhabdomyolysis causes a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a damaging protein into the blood. It can affect your kidneys, liver and heart and have longterm complications. 

“You know Rhabdomyolysis doesn’t just fall from the sky,” she said. “It’s usually from overuse and it’s not common. I think that when you have children who are harmed in this way, to the severity that they were harmed, there has to be accountability.”

In a statement to CBS 11, Rockwall ISD said in part:

“Our serious concern for these students and their health led the district to pursue a third-party investigation into the incident immediately. We know the investigation will take time and we await its completion.”

The district has since notified the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which has launched its own investigation.