Because I grew up going to athletic events, played sports all the way through high school, and now make a living working in sports, I have seen my fair share of sporting injuries take place right in front of my eyes. With that said, I had never seen anything worse than what I witnessed this past weekend at Hoopfest. The images engrained in my head from the events that occurred on early Saturday evening will forever be with me.
This year at Hoopfest I was a court monitor for a 12 team bracket as opposed to the traditional 16 team bracket. Because of this, I finished my shift early on Saturday at 4 p.m. I became very excited when I realized that I would get the opportunity to watch my brother play in his 5 p.m. game. Not only was it special that I could see him play, it was also a cool deal because I had not gotten to watch a Hoopfest game as a spectator in over six years.
After finishing up paperwork at my court, I walked from my post to my brother’s court between Spokane Falls Boulevard and Main. My brother’s team consisted of himself, two friends from the Ellensburg area, and one guy from Phoenix. The two guys from Ellensburg were staying at my parents’ house with us. Kyle, a former baseball teammate at Central Washington with my brother and a Hoopfest teammate of Glen’s the past couple of years, accounted for one of the Ellensburg boys. The other was a 20 year old kid named Corey who was pumped up to play in his first ever Hoopfest. I had gotten to know Corey the night before when him and Kyle arrived in town. He was excited to be in Spokane and to experience the tournament.
I got to Glen’s court a couple minutes before the game was about to start. The court monitor asked the crowd gathered if anyone could help out and keep score. Because I wanted a prime view of the action and because I know how valuable score keepers are, I volunteered and ran from my curb seat across to the other side of the court and to the scorer’s table.
Saturday evening games at Hoopfest are very competitive. They are elimination games and everyone wants to win and make it to Sunday. This game was no different. Glen’s team and their opponents played each other hard the whole game. Both teams were chippy and both teams were doing all they could not to lose. Just when it seemed like Glen’s team would not make it to see the light of Sunday as they faced a five point deficit, the guys pulled together for one last run. Thanks to some clutch shooting and a very generous timeout call, they managed to tie the game at 16-16 when regulation ran out. Overtime.
The Hoopfest overtime rule was enforced and the first team to 18 would win the game. This was when disaster struck…
In one of the initial possessions of overtime with the score still tied, Corey made a strong move to the basket for a potential lay-in. He left the ground to lay the ball up. As he was in the air, his defender accidentally took Corey’s feet out from under him. This flipped him upside down in midair, making a feet first landing impossible. In the split second that all of this happened I watched in complete horror as he fell head first into the cruel Spokane pavement. Corey was unable to brace his fall with his hands as the complete impact of the crash was absorbed with the left side of his head.
The moment the accident happened I heard a sound I never want to hear again in my lifetime…the thump of the human skull on the pavement. When he hit, it wasn’t like everyone froze and there was a moment of shocked silence, rather there was a collective shriek of sheer terror that came out of everyone’s mouth who watched the incident. About five seconds after he hit the ground Corey’s unconscious body had a seizure. With his body twitching on the court, people all around the court started to lose it. I dashed down the street to find a court marshal (they have radios) to get paramedics and rapid response team members down to the court immediately.
By the time I got back to the court Corey’s head was laying in a puddle of blood that turned the rain soaked black pavement dark red. With my brother and his two teammates huddled around him, a good Samaritan had come out of the crowd and tried to do what she could to help. Emergency personnel started to arrive and work on Corey. By the time they got to the scene, Corey had regained consciousness but was totally out of it.
By this time a large crowd had developed all around the court. Every second someone would come up to me and ask what happened. As the paramedics worked on him, players from both teams stood with their hands on their heads and lost expressions on their faces. They brought an ambulance in and parked it inside the court as personnel worked under the basket on Corey. Glen and Kyle ripped into Corey’s bag to get his cell phone so they could call his parents, only problem being his cell phone was dead. Just as my cousin was about to run to the free charging station they had set up at Hoopfest, the paramedics asked Corey a question: ‘Can you tell us your parents’ cell phone number?” Corey knew it! Not only did he know it, but he could recite it as well. Kyle called Corey’s parents to tell them the awful news.
From the time the emergency crew arrived it took them about 30 minutes to treat Corey, stabilize him, get him on the stretcher, and load him into the ambulance. As they carried him into the vehicle, the roughly 200 people who were around watching gave him a nice ovation. As the ambulance took Corey to Sacred Heart Hospital the blood on the court was wiped off with a sanitizing solution and the two shook up teams resumed the game. My brother took Corey’s free throw and made it to put them up 17-16. However, the other team nailed a two-pointer to win the contest, 18-17. In what would have been a tense round of handshakes if the incident never occurred, both teams embraced each other and knew that everything had just been put in perspective. No one really won that game.
I left my spot at the scorer’s table and went to my mom across the street. Just seeing the tears in her own eyes made me wonder how terrible such a situation must be for the parents who actually have their own kids go through such a devastating and violent injury. Glen and Kyle went straight to the hospital. After a stint in the emergency room, they transferred Corey to intensive care. Things started to get a little scary.
Although he ended up getting stabilized while in the ICU, the damage could not have been more pronounced. Corey had sustained a serious concussion, the inside of his brain was bleeding, the back of it was bruised, and he had suffered a skull fracture. To make you squirm a little, doctors had to use eight staples to shut the giant laceration on the left side of his head.
Glen and Kyle spent Saturday night and Sunday at the hospital with their teammate and friend. On Monday, my mom went to the hospital and met Corey’s parents for the first time who were very gracious about her visit. They said although it was Corey’s first Hoopfest, it would probably be his last. They also said they were hoping that Corey would get released from the hospital that day but that it would have to come when dark fell because he was having sensitivity issues with the daylight.
In fact Corey did get discharged from the hospital that Monday night. He is currently in Ellensburg. Corey faces a long road of recovery and he will be unable to do a lot of things for quite some time. I feel so awful for him. Although I only knew him for around 24 hours before the incident you hate to see something like that happen to someone so young and someone so nice. Another lesson in perspective for me. Here’s to a full recovery, Corey. I am sorry this happened to you. Don’t Blink.