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Rockwall-Heath Football Coach Resigns After Investigation Finds Workout Likely Made Players Sick

John Harrell had been on administrative leave since January after an offseason workout sent as many as 20 football players to the hospital.
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Rockwall-Heath head football coach John Harrell, seen here on the left in a video announcing his hire, has resigned after a two-month investigation into a workout that sickened several players. Rockwall ISD Sports Marketing Department

Rockwall-Heath head football coach John Harrell resigned this week, two months after a workout conducted for prospective varsity players sent several players to the hospital.

Harrell had been placed on administrative leave shortly after as many as 20 football players were sickened due to a stress condition called rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo, following a January 6 workout.  Rockwall ISD hired a third-party law firm to conduct an investigation into the matter and also informed Child Protective Services about the incident, as it is required by law to do. CPS went on to open its own investigation.

In a letter Wednesday night, first obtained by the Dallas Morning News, Rockwall ISD athletic director Russ Reeves told parents that the district’s investigators found that there was enough evidence to support a finding that the workout negatively impacted the health of some of the players, in violation of school board policy.  

We reported on the workout and the aftermath last month. According to several accounts, the workout was for junior varsity players hoping to make the varsity team. For every mistake made in the workout, the players were required to do 16 pushups. There were 23 mistakes, which meant that players did the workout and as many as 368 pushups during their 50-minute eighth-period class.

Rhabdomyolysis, if left untreated, can result in cardiac issues, kidney failure, and even death. Symptoms of severe rhabdo usually emerge about 24 to 48 hours after overexertion, which can result in more extreme muscle breakdown that overtaxes the kidneys with the byproducts, including creatine, a marker for damaged muscle tissue. Many of the families we spoke to reported that their children showed elevated creatine levels that only began to normalize weeks after the workout.

In addition to announcing Harrell’s resignation, Reeves told parents that the investigator’s report provided recommendations for the program moving forward and that the district intended to adopt them in all of its athletic programs. 

The report recommended hiring or consulting with a certified strength and conditioning specialist to review and even help design the workouts of district coaches. It also recommended better oversight by the athletic director into offseason workouts and having athletic trainers review offseason workout plans. The investigators also recommended that coaches, athletic administrators, trainers, parents, and students receive training on rhabdo.

Prior to heading the program at Rockwall-Heath, Harrell had coaching stints at Stephenville, Midlothian, and Garland ISDs. He has been employed by Rockwall ISD since 2019. Secondary coach Alex Contreras will serve as interim head coach until the district hires Harrell’s replacement.


Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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