Clues scarce in death of player at camp

Official details frantic, futile bid to save boy

J. Thibodeau J. Thibodeau
By Laura J. Nelson and Neena Satija
Globe Correspondents / July 20, 2011

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HOLDEN - The coaches at a youth soccer camp where a boy collapsed Monday morning had kept warm-up drills light and water breaks frequent to combat the morning humidity, officials said yesterday.

Joshua Thibodeau, 12, had just come off his second water break about 9:45 a.m. and was dribbling a soccer ball through a line of cones when he inexplicably fell to the turf at Wachusett Regional High School, said Thomas Padiscio, superintendent of the regional school district. Thibodeau was pronounced dead an hour later at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

“I really wish this was one of those cases where a kid’s life was saved,’’ Padiscio said. “But they did everything they possibly could, and this still happened.’’

Autopsy results were expected yesterday, but had not been released as of last night.

The Zalgiris Soccer Camp, a district program run by three varsity soccer coaches, is across the street from the Holden Fire and Police departments. All three coaches have up-to-date American Red Cross CPR certification, Padiscio said. EMTs, who were in the fire station driveway when they received the 911 call, arrived within 90 seconds.

Thibodeau’s older brother was also at the soccer camp and saw his brother collapse. He called their parents, Deb and Ralph Thibodeau, who rode in the ambulance with Joshua.

“Josh’s family would like to thank the Holden Police Department, Fire Department, and ER team at UMass for trying so hard to save our precious son’s life,’’ his family said in a statement.

Although the camp does not carry the district’s name, it uses the district’s liability insurance and athletic facilities, Padiscio said.

The camp is run by Markens Benoit, the varsity boys’ soccer coach at Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham; Jason Gaumond, the varsity boys’ soccer coach at Wachusett Regional High School; and David Gentleman, the Wachusett assistant coach. Gaumond is a member of the Worcester Police Department.

The coaches could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Benoit and Gaumond split proceeds from the camp’s registration fees with the school district in exchange for using the district’s athletic and school facilities, Padiscio said. The camp is in its fourth year and began as part of the district’s entrepreneurial initiative, which encourages employees to pitch ideas and budgets for extracurricular programs.

“The camp follows the same procedures as the high school programs,’’ Padiscio said, including the requirement that participants in sports programs show that they have received a physical within the past year.

Padiscio said he saw Thibodeau’s medical record yesterday but could not comment due to privacy laws.

A physical exam is the best way to identify potential health problems, researchers and doctors say, and most high school and college athletic programs require one. An athlete’s physical is similar to a routine checkup, but with added scrutiny.

“You’re going to be looking for more things and you’re going to be asking more questions,’’ said Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston. She asks whether the child has ever suffered heart palpitations, dizziness, or fainting and examines family histories for heart disease and sudden death.

Such details don’t often make it into the hands of coaches, who usually see only a form with the doctor’s signature, said Barry Haley, athletic director of Concord Carlisle High School and president of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Although the cause of Thibodeau’s death has not been released, Dr. Barry Maron of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation said the most common cause of sudden death in youths is a genetic disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart muscle and cannot typically be detected in a basic physical exam.

The remainder of Monday’s training at the Zalgiris camp was cancelled but resumed yesterday. All 28 participants returned, Padiscio said, and yesterday at noon, players in bright scrimmage vests ran drills to the rhythmic tweet of coaches’ whistles.

Later in the day, cars lined the parking lot of Wachusett Regional High School as parents picked up their children from a range of summer programs.

As Jordan Teevens, 14, left a physics program with his grandmother, he said he had sent a Facebook message offering his support to Thibodeau’s older brother, whom he knows from a basketball team.

“We all just can’t believe that could happen to someone so close to our age,’’ Teevens said.

Maggie Agurkis, who is on the Sterling Youth Soccer Association board, said the death triggered a talk with her 11-year-old son.

“We did tell him that no matter what the coach says, he should sit down if he feels funny or he feels tired,’’ Agurkis said. “All you can do is prevent the preventable.’’

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Laura J. Nelson can be reached at Neena Satija can be reached at