Montgomery County Public Schools. (Courtesy Photo)

GAITHERSBURG – On Sept. 10, as Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) continues to make changes to its Athlete Supervision Action Plan, a Gaithersburg High School student and football player passed out alone in a field after practice, found later by his mother.

Zachary Arrendell, a 15-year-old high school student, was cleared to play football despite having postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that gives him an abnormally increased heart rate, especially when switching from lying down to standing up.

In just the second week of his sophomore year, after going through punishment drills during practice, Zach began to feel dizzy. He waved away teammates and coaches – who were aware of his condition – asking if he was all right.

His mother, Candice Arrendell, found him passed out and alone about 10 minutes later, as the team, including the coaches, walked back to the locker rooms. Clinic records show that Zach was treated that day for headache, vomiting, transient loss of consciousness and dehydration.

In 2015, a Gaithersburg student died after being refused her inhaler by her gym teacher. Arrendell, aware of the incident and that the team was under new coaching staff, spoke directly with coaches before Zach joining the team to make them aware of his condition.

MCPS follows the National Federation of State High School Associations’ plans and procedures for health and safety, which consider stumbling, vomiting and collapse to be severe signs of heat illness to watch out for.

MCPS’ Athlete Supervision Action Plan requires paid coaches to create supervision plans to adhere to when overseeing student-athletes. Paid coaches, according to the plan, must be with the team throughout practice and during and after contests, and must create their supervision plans, which follow MCPS requirements.

MCPS spokesperson Derek Turner admitted that he did not know all the details regarding the Gaithersburg incident, and would not comment on any specifics. Concerning school athletics and the supervision plan, he said that “the school system is in a very good place right now.”

Turner cited two major takeaways from the incident: that student-athletes should be honest when they are not feeling well, and that coaches should contact parents when they feel that a student is unwell.

“There’s a culture in football to be tough and pretend to be okay when they’re not,” he said. “We want them to be comfortable to tell someone when they’re not okay.”

Turner said believed that students should be aware of their health and abilities and did not see that awareness as an issue for high schoolers.

“Our athletes are very mature,” he said.

The MCPS Athlete Supervision Action Plan, first unveiled earlier this year, comes just after an alleged first-degree rape occurred in a Damascus High School locker room in October 2018, which unveiled a culture of hazing and violence within the team during court proceedings. MCPS would not comment on ongoing litigation related to the case.

At the same time, the University of Maryland was put under national attention after a student football player, Jordan McNair, died of heat stroke after an outdoor workout in June 2018, calling into question the culture of the team and the competence of the staff. Head Coach D.J. Durkin was fired that October.

Arrendell quickly pulled Zach out of school. Gaithersburg admitted fault and apologized to the family.

The school’s principal, Cary Dimmick, emailed Arrendell: “I am very sorry about the situation that occurred with Zachary yesterday. As a result of the circumstances, we have re-emphasized with all our coaches the MCPS protocols for injuries and/or illness.”

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