An 18-year-old high-school student is dead after two players hit heads in a “freak accident” at a Prince Edward Island rugby match.
A weekend-long rugby tournament was just kicking off Friday night in Summerside, PEI, when Brodie McCarthy, who played on the Montague Regional High School squad along with his twin brother, Justin, connected with another player as they both went for the ball.
“He made a dive for the ball. The other young fella made a dive for the ball. Their heads collided and that’s what happened,” said Brodie’s grandfather, Wilfred McCarthy.
Brodie McCarthy, who played a long list of other sports including hockey, got up and was able to walk off the field. He coherently answered questions from his coach and took a seat on the sidelines.
“And then he just fell,” the elder Mr. McCarthy said. “And he never got up again.”
Accompanied by his brother and coaches, the young Mr. McCarthy was taken by ambulance to hospital in Summerside. He was then transferred to Moncton for surgery on what his mother, Lisa McCarthy, described as blood clots in his brain. But doctors were not able to save him.
His death comes at a time when high-school contact sports are facing increasing scrutiny due to the risks they confer, including concussions. Last fall, high-school football came under the microscope in New Brunswick after nine students experienced concussion-like symptoms in one game alone, prompting a debate about whether the sport should be allowed to continue at the high-school level.
Mr. McCarthy’s death is sure to raise similar questions about rugby, a sport in which players’ only mandatory piece of protective equipment is a mouth guard, according to rules posted online by the PEI School Athletic Association (PEISAA).
Ryan Lloyd, PEISAA’s Rugby commissioner, said Mr. McCarthy’s “loss will be felt … in the rugby community on PEI for many years to come.” He pointed out that like any sport, rugby carries an element of risk, but noted the game is one of “evasion.”
“Rugby players are meant to attempt to avoid large collisions while on attack,” he said, noting that defensive aims are to “bring a player to the ground, not create a massive collision.”
Allen Vansen, chief executive of Rugby Canada, said that the sport operates under World Rugby guidelines, making it one of “the most proactive international sport federations” when it comes to managing concussions.
“This is not something anybody should ever have to go through,” Mr. Vansen said of the McCarthy family’s loss. “We are very saddened by this incredibly tragic event.”
A groundbreaking law was passed in Ontario earlier this year that requires all amateur sports associations, clubs and school teams to abide by strict concussion protocols, including concussion-management training. Known as Rowan’s Law, Bill 193 was named for Rowan Stringer, who was 17 years old when she died after being injured while playing high-school rugby.
Jean Doherty, a member of PEISAA’s communications staff, said all rugby games will be postponed this week until after Mr. McCarthy’s funeral, the date of which has yet to be set.
“It has been a really rough day for people here in the school community,” Ms. Doherty said. “Rugby is a world sport that is very popular,” she said, adding that the association ensures that guidelines and protocols are followed in school sports. “To our knowledge, everything was followed perfectly,” she said of Friday night’s incident, adding: “Nothing like this has ever happened in PEI before.”
Lisa McCarthy called her son’s death a “freak accident” that could not have been foreseen. “You could play that game a million other times and that would never, ever happen,” she said. Brodie, she said, had never had a concussion.
On Monday, an emotional McCarthy family remained in Moncton with Mr. McCarthy, who is on life support while arrangements are made for the donation of his organs.
“He’s the type of person that if someone needs his heart, he’d say, ’Here. You could have it,’” Ms. McCarthy said.
David McCarthy, Brodie’s father, said it was easier to list the sports his son did not play rather than the long list that he did. “He was very healthy,” Mr. McCarthy said, choking back tears. “They figure all of his organs will be donated to somebody.”
Back in PEI, donors to a GoFundMe campaign created to support the McCarthy family had raised almost $16,000 by late Monday afternoon. Ms. McCarthy said the family has been amazed at the outpouring of support, including from people she did not know, but who knew Brodie.
“We are hearing such kind words about what a remarkable young man he was and how he made an impact on their lives or their children’s lives,” she said. “It’s really nice to hear that he was so loved.”
In addition to his parents and his twin, Justin, Brodie leaves an older brother, Brandon.