Illinois prep football players' injuries draw lawsuit

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | 5:20 p.m. CDT

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — The mother of an Illinois high school football player is suing his football coach and the district, claiming her son sustained permanent, stroke-causing brain injuries during a game after his complaints of a headache and signs of a concussion went ignored.

Demond Hunt Jr.'s mother, Shanai McLorn, accused East St. Louis Senior High coach Darren Sunkett of a win-at-all-cost mentality that recklessly endangered his players by such tactics as contact drills without proper protection, at one point causing an athlete to break his neck.

With the district's backing, the lawsuit claims, Sunkett taunted his players for not playing "or complaining of symptoms consistent with concussion, including yelling at a student with a head injury to 'quit playing like a little (expletive) and get out there.'"

McLorn claims that Sunkett also ridiculed injured players, creating an atmosphere in which injuries were not reported or were underreported, and that he wouldn't inform parents that their children were injured, including with concussions.

Sunkett, the school district's superintendent and the high school's athletics director did not return telephone messages Tuesday seeking comment about the lawsuit filed last week in St. Clair County.

The suit seeks compensation for at least more than $200,000 Hunt has incurred, as well as at least $50,000 for each of the petition's four counts.

According to the lawsuit, Hunt sustained a broken collarbone in July 2008 when Sunkett ordered him to tackle a teammate while neither wore protective gear. The other player suffered a broken neck, the lawsuit claims without identifying the athlete.

Three months later, during a game at Collinsville on Oct. 3, 2008, Hunt suffered a series of seizures and strokes on the Flyers' sidelines after a blood vessel burst in his brain, according to the lawsuit.

McLorn claims that her son was supplied a defective football helmet lined with head-cushioning air bellows that weren't properly inflated. Sunkett, the lawsuit claims, also had ordered her son to play even after the teenager complained of a headache and showed signs of a concussion.

The defendants' "policies were to place winning over the health, safety and welfare of its student-athletes," the lawsuit claims.

East St. Louis won the Class 7 Illinois state football title last season — the program's first since 1991. Sunkett also won a Missouri state football title as head coach of the St. Louis area's Riverview Gardens district in the late 1990s.


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