It's a tragedy that's hard to deal with and even harder to comprehend.
Preston Birdsong, an 18-year-old returning freshman and member of the Golden Eagle football team, collapsed during the team's testing session Sunday afternoon and died later at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.
"We're all deeply saddened by this, the loss of one of our own," says TTU President Bob Bell. "Preston was a promising young student and athlete who, through his talent, drive and dedication had a bright future ahead. Our prayers and deepest sympathy go out to his family, his friends and his teammates."
Birdsong, a native of Nashville, collapsed during the team's first day of activities for the 2000 season. Head athletic trainer David Green and emergency personnel rushed to Birdsong's side and immediately began resuscitation efforts. Local law enforcement and medical personnel arrived at the scene within minutes, along with a local physician Sullivan Smith, and transported Birdsong to the medical center.
Preliminary autopsy results indicate Birdsong died from heat stroke, according Charles Harlan, the consulting forensic pathologist for Putnam County. Harlan explained that because Birdsong was in such good physical condition, he had very little body fat, which prevents the body from getting too hot or cold.
Temperatures Sunday, however, were cooler than normal for August Ñ in the mid 80's with relatively low humidity. And Birdsong had been on the field less than half an hour and had just passed the medical physical earlier in the day. Those circumstances make Birdsong's death even more difficult for campus officials to understand.
"There was nothing in Preston's medical records to make us think he might be at risk for this," said Smith "I saw nothing in his medical history or during his physical that would have made me think he had any problems."
Birdsong, 5-11, 190, joined the Golden Eagles after a stellar prep career at Nashville's Maplewood High. The two-way starter was highly recruited and deemed to be one of our top rookies. He spent the 1999 season learning the team's defensive schemes and was slated to see extensive playing time this season.
"Preston was part of our family, and we will miss him dearly," said TTU coach Mike Hennigan. "Our prayers go out to Preston's family."
Teammates and athletic staff members have met with grief counselors and clergy, and the Counseling Center is offering its services to anyone on campus. Funeral services were held Thursday in Nashville, and the university took two bus loads of students and staff members for the service.
Friend and teammate Troy Grant said the team decided to recognize Birdsong by playing the season in his memory."We are dedicating this season to Preston," said Grant. "He reported Aug. 12 with us, and that means he's with us in our hearts throughout the whole season. We want his parents to be proud of this 2000 Golden Eagle football team and know that even though their son died, he still lives on. He was part of this team and he always will be."