Grief support was made available Sunday for students at a high school south of Duluth after one of its football players collapsed on the field during a varsity game and later died.
Jackson Pfister, who would have turned 16 this Saturday, was stricken late in the game Friday at Veterans Field in Aitkin, police said. He was taken by ambulance to Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin and died shortly afterward.
Pfister, a late substitution at quarterback during Esko’s victory over Aitkin, went to the ground about 10 yards behind the play, then “got up, began to walk over to the sideline and collapsed,” said Matt Fowler, who was calling the game on Aitkin-based KKIN Radio.
Fowler said two people from the Esko sideline went to the sophomore’s aid right away, and an Aitkin player brought over a blanket.
“He laid there for … maybe closer to 10” minutes before an ambulance arrived and took Pfister off the field, Fowler said. The game was ruled complete with three minutes remaining on the clock.
No ambulance was on station at the game, as had been the practice a number of seasons ago, said Aitkin Public Schools Superintendent Dan Stifter, who was in attendance.
“That’s how it has been the last few years,” said Stifter, who became superintendent in July. “I don’t know why they aren’t there now.”
As soon as Pfister collapsed, Stifter said, a doctor and a trainer from Aitkin’s sideline went to the teen’s aid.
A spokeswoman for North Memorial Health, which provides ambulance service in Aitkin, said a call was fielded at 9:20 p.m., and paramedics were at the athlete’s side about five minutes later.
Esko Superintendent Aaron Fischer said in a statement that “Jackson was a tremendous young man that brought joy to everyone he was around. The entire community is grieving this loss. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Fischer added that support services were made available to students and staff Sunday in the school cafeteria, and support would continue Monday.
No preliminary cause of death has been given. Aitkin police and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office are investigating.
Brooke Pfister posted on Facebook that her son had a congenital heart defect and had undergone open-heart surgery several years ago.
Before being cleared to participate in a sport, Minnesota high school athletes must submit a form signed by a health care provider after an exam. It includes questions about whether an athlete has experienced heart-related problems or been told by a doctor that they have heart problems.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482