Twenty years ago on a Saturday afternoon in October, I witnessed an event that I will never forget.
I was attending the Virginia-North Carolina football game in Chapel Hill early in the second quarter when referee Jim Knight was shot, or at least it was what I thought. I just happened to be looking in Knight’s direction when both feet left the ground and Knight laid motionless on the turf of Kenan Stadium.
Knight actually hadn’t been shot, but had instead suffered a massive heart attack, which had the same effect; his heart stopped beating. While a crowd of 50,000 sat helpless, other leapt into action. This was the account of the incident as told by Dave Johnson of the Newport News Daily Press.
Dr. Greg Mears, the medical director of emergency services for Orange County and Kenan Stadium, said Knight did not have a pulse when he arrived. Workers were able to revive him with a defibrillator and Knight was taken to Memorial, which is located about 200 yards behind Kenan’s press box.
``If he was going to have a heart attack, he had it in a very good position,’’ Mears said. ``His survival chances at home would have been about 20 percent.’’
I don’t know Mark Strosnider, but I feel certain he can relate to the comments made about Knight. Strosnider, a high school basketball official from the Colonial Athletic Association, was working Friday night at Chatham High School to call a game between the Cavaliers and the Floyd County Buffaloes.
Aaron Taylor was working the same game. Taylor, an employee at Spectrum Medical in Danville, is a certified athletic trainer that for the last 14 years has worked in an outreach program, coordinated between Spectrum and Pittsylvania County Schools. Taylor spreads himself paper thin and travels the largest county in Virginia 4-5 nights a week from August-June serving the needs of the four county high schools.
As fate would have it, the Chatham game was the only one in the county Friday and because of that, two men that would have passed each other on the street without a word would from this night forward share a bond that will last a lifetime.
It was only a few minutes into the game when Taylor, stationed in his usual corner diagonal to the gym lobby, said he heard on a noise as the action moved towards the opposite end of the floor. “When I looked up, I saw one of the referees stumble and fall in front of the coaches’ office door,” said Taylor. “At first, I thought he had stumbled and bumped his head. When I got to him, I checked his pulse and he was breathing, but soon after, he stopped.”
Taylor and others went to work, using CPR training to massage the heart and a defibrillator to shock the heart when it had stopped. Taylor said the message received from the defibrillator first said not to use the paddles again, but then the heart stopped and Strosnider was shocked again. In all, medical personnel worked on Strosnider for 11 minutes before he was transported to Danville Regional Medical Center.
Taylor visited on Saturday morning, speaking with Strosnider and his wife and daughter. “I explained to them what happened as neither the wife or daughter were present at the game. They were very appreciative of what we were able to do.” Strosnider was soon after transferred to a hospital in Lynchburg, closer to his home.
Though Taylor has not made a living of saving lives, he has made a living for the last fifteen years by serving the athletes of Pittsylvania County and it is the people of Pittsylvania County who need to show their gratitude. If you have coached in Pittsylvania County during that time, then you are familiar Aaron Taylor. From the time the first whistle blows to kick off the fall sports calendar until the final pitch of the spring, Taylor is the one guy who never has an off-season.
As long ago as 2015, 37% of high schools across America employed full-time athletic trainers. The state of North Carolina for one requires all high schools to have a full-time trainer while Taylor is responsible for the 978 square miles that make up Pittsylvania County and four high schools himself.
Taylor said his goal would be to see a trainer for each high school, but he would settle for one additional trainer that would split his workload in half. With one more trainer, Taylor knows that he would have a chance to see his wife and son a little more often.
When Taylor told me about meeting Strosnider’s family Saturday morning, I thought how basketball officials wander in and out of high school gyms across the country and how so few of the fans know these people as the guy who sits on their pew at church or whose wife is their nephew’s teacher.
Whatever the relationship, the missing link is that these men and women enjoy the game, enjoy the young people who play and just want to do their part to keep the game alive. If their objective was to give advantage to one team over another, there would have to be a lot more money involved than the meal money officials make per game.
When Strosnider was taken from the gym Friday night, players and coaches gathered hand in hand at midcourt and prayed for his well-being. Some of the fans did likewise. Does it really take a life and death situation for a referee not to be verbally abused by one side or the other for every call in the game?
Officials are not looking for you to like every call or even agree with it, but just to respect the person making it.