MURRIETA (CBSLA.com) — A Southland teenager suing his school district is talking for the first time about the football practice he says changed his life forever.
Casey Aspinall is taking Vista Murrieta High School and the Murrieta Valley Unified School District to court in a case that could have implications for all local football programs.
“Football’s a really big deal in Vista Murrieta,” Casey, a former junior varsity cornerback for the school, told CBS2’s Pat Harvey.
“Off-season was – felt like to me – more competitive than in-season practice, especially at the time because you had to show the coach that you were ready to play at the next level,” he said, recalling his last practices for the team in 2010.
It was in December of that year that Casey had collided with a teammate while practicing in one of his football physical education classes. Neither player in the collision was wearing a helmet. They also weren’t wearing pads.
Pat Harvey reports Vista Murrieta immediately filters its football players into physical education classes for credit as soon as the season ends. For Casey, it was a normal football practice with this one big distinction: “There was no protective gear,” he said.
Casey took an elbow to the head and hit the ground in the collision, sustaining a grade 4 concussion.
“I remember the football coming towards me and everything went black,” he said. “Blood was everywhere. It was dripping down my face, on my chest, on my stomach, to my pants, my hands. It was messy.”
“They were calling my name. I remember hearing, ‘Casey, Casey, Casey, many times,'” he recalled.
Now, more than three years later, Casey says he suffers from debilitating lifelong effects.
“I have a constant headache,” he said.
“And he has migraines several times a week,” Aspinall’s mother, Cheryl, added.
Doctors also say Casey suffers from memory loss, neck pain, narcolepsy and insomnia.
“MRIs and CAT scans show he literally has holes in his brain,” Aspinall’s attorney, Browne Greene, said.
Casey and his mom are suing Vista Murrieta High School and the Murrieta Valley School District for negligence.
They say they want to know why players didn’t wear pads and why there wasn’t more supervision.
The assistant coach deposed in the case, Even Daarstad, was the only adult supervising at the time, and told attorneys there were as many as 65 kids in the junior varsity gym class.
“Is it fair to say that you got no written instructions about how to protect these kids during this gym class – is that fair?” he was asked during a videotaped deposition.
“Yes,” Daarstad replied.
Dr. David Patterson, an independent expert contacted by CBS2, specializes in brain injuries and is a physician volunteer at high school football games. He said the statistics involving high school football injuries should be enough to persuade the governing body for high school sports – the California Interscholastic Federation – to do more to protect athletes like Casey.
“On average [there are] eight to ten concussions per high school football team per year in practice only,” Patterson said.
“The southern section of CIF had rules about protective gear in the off-season. I think that can be interpreted or misinterpreted to a certain extent from each individual school that’s participating.
The CIF limits the number of football practices during off-season and forbids contact or live tackling. The organization actually takes protective gear away, so players know it’s not a normal practice.
Daarstad admitted during his deposition he created and implemented his lesson plan for Aspinall’s gym class based on those CIF rules.
“My assumption was that we weren’t allowed to have pads so we didn’t use pads or other equipment,” Daarstad said.
Dr. Patterson argued that kind of approach can lead to dangerous outcomes for players.
“When they tackle, they get in a certain situation, their muscle memory takes over and they can’t stop their momentum. So you are putting both athletes at risk when you play like that. So it should be helmeted. It should be with protective gear,” he said.
For Casey and his mom, it’s been an emotional journey.
“Horrific. Heartbreaking. And it’s a tragedy,” Casey’s mother said. “[It’s] an injury that should have never happened.”
Her son had to give up football, repeat his junior year and eventually graduated from high school with the help of disability programs. His dreams of going college on a football scholarship and becoming a pilot in the military are over.
“If I can rewind my life back to the day I got hurt, I would tell the coach to hand me a helmet,” Casey said.
Vista Murrieta High School did not return phone calls from CBS2. The Murrieta Valley School District would not comment but referred CBS2 to its legal counsel, which did not respond to calls.
The case is scheduled to go to trial on April 4.
People involved in the case say it could change the rules regarding high school football safety in the Southland and across the country.