Coach Resigns Following Rhabdo Investigation


Rockwall-Heath High School head football coach John Harrell | Image by Rockwall ISD

Rockwall-Heath High School head football coach John Harrell has resigned amid an investigation into an offseason workout that allegedly hospitalized several players.

Russ Reeves, athletic director of Rockwall ISD, sent the following email to those involved with the school announcing the changes:

“As a follow-up to our prior communications regarding the Rockwall-Heath High School Football program, we would like to thank you for being patient as the third-party completed the investigation regarding the Friday, January 6, 2023 football workout that affected the health of several student-athletes in the off-season varsity football class.”

“The District received the summary of the investigation from the third-party independent investigator. Following a thorough investigation, the investigators determined multiple student-athletes were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis resulting from a football workout.”

“The investigators found sufficient evidence existed to support a finding that the offseason workout plan was implemented in a way that negatively affected the physical health of some student football athletes at Rockwall-Heath High School in violation of Rockwall ISD Board Policy. Due to confidentiality under Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code, the district is unable to release specific evaluative information regarding District personnel.”

The email went on to announce the receipt of Harrell’s resignation letter and the launch of a search for his replacement.

“We will immediately begin facilitating the hiring of a new head football coach and campus athletic coordinator. Filling this position is a top priority for our athletic program and the district. In that effort, parents, teachers and staff will have an opportunity to provide input about the strengths and qualities of the future head football coach. With the support of our Hawk family, the future coach will continue the expectation and tradition of excellence,” Reeves concluded.

Harrell had been placed on administrative leave beginning January 6, when players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis following a workout. This condition causes damaged muscle tissue to release proteins and electrolytes into the bloodstream. It can damage the heart or kidneys, sometimes leading to permanent disability or even death.

The district launched multiple investigations into the incident. One was led by the third party mentioned in Reeves’ email, which The Dallas Morning News identified as Adams, Lynch, and Loftin, P.C. Another was conducted by the Texas Department of Family and Protection Services, per WFAA. These investigations concluded that the workout had caused the players’ illnesses.

As The Dallas Express reported, Harrell did have support from some parents and players after the incident. In late January, a group showed up at a closed school board meeting in late January, wearing “Keep Harrell” t-shirts as they made their case.

“It was just an unfortunate situation that happened,” Bobby Robinson, parent to a Heath student, told WFAA at the meeting. “It was an accident; let’s figure it out. But he’s not a monster. None of those coaches are.”

Some parents of the injured student-athletes suggested that they did not believe Harrell intended to harm the players.

“He said he was trying to educate himself on this. He said he was not aware of what rhabdo was or how severe it was,” Dr. Osehotue Okojie, a parent of one of the afflicted players, previously told WFAA.

“I told him this was excessive. That it was a lot. But I don’t think his intent was to harm our kids,” Okojie continued.

Reeves’ email revealed that the district would be making additional changes to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Those changes include educating staff, students, and parents on rhabdomyolysis; having full-time certified strength and conditioning specialists review workout plans and off-season programs; adding input from athletic trainers when developing those plans; and having more involvement from athletic directors.

The Dallas Morning News reported that secondary coach Alex Contreras will serve as the high school’s interim head coach until a permanent replacement is found.

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