FARMINGVILLE, N.Y. — A high school football player lifting a large log with teammates as part of a Navy SEALs-style drill was hit in the head by the log and died Thursday, raising questions about adapting such military training to young athletes.
Joshua Mileto, a 16-year-old Sachem East High School junior, and about five of his teammates were carrying the log overhead when the accident happened at a preseason exercise camp supervised by a half-dozen coaches, Suffolk County police said.
The 5-foot-6, 134-pound wide receiver and defensive back was declared dead later at a hospital.
Sachem East graduate Carlin Schledorn, who played football as a junior, said carrying the log — about 12 feet (3.7 meters) long and the diameter of a utility pole — was a “team building” exercise.
“It’s very big. It’s like a tree, and it’s a challenge for people who weightlift,” he said. “Five or six people do it at once. I feel horrific for the team and coaches because I know them, and they are all great men.”
School officials, including the head coach, did not comment on the exercise.
A person at Mileto’s home declined to speak with reporters.
Classmate Olivia Cassereli said Mileto “cared about everyone else.”
“He put others before himself, and everyone loved him and was friends with him,” said Cassereli, who called him her best friend.
Some colleges and other high schools around the country have incorporated log-carrying drills and other military-inspired exercises into their football preparations in recent years, sometimes bringing in SEALs to teach and motivate.
Players at Indiana’s New Albany High School teamed up last month to tote 6-foot-long, 200-pound logs two miles from a local amphitheater to the school.
SEALs and Green Berets trained the players first on how to lift the logs and carry them on their shoulders, coach Steve Cooley said. Accompanied by coaches and a police escort, the groups paused for water and put the logs down every one or two blocks, and each six-person squad had an extra man who could sub in if someone got tired.
“The purpose was not to try to see how tough they are … the purpose was to accomplish a goal,” Cooley said. “It was very rewarding for all of us.”
But after Mileto’s death on Thursday, sports safety expert Douglas Casa questioned the wisdom of having teenagers perform an exercise that involves carrying a heavy object and that was developed for Navy SEALs, who are “potentially a very different clientele.”
“There’s so much potential for things to go wrong that I would really want people to think twice before doing something like that,” said Casa, executive director of the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, which works to improve safety for athletes.
Football, at all levels, has become more safety-conscious in recent years amid scrutiny of head injuries in the sport. In college football, for instance, the NCAA this year barred the two-a-day contact practices that coaches once used to toughen up their teams in the preseason, though many teams had ended them already.
For high schools in Suffolk County, offseason practices are permitted as long as they are not mandated and are open to everyone, said Tom Combs, executive director of the athletic organization that oversees high school sports in the county.
“What exercises that are conducted are the privy of the school district and individuals running the workouts,” he said.
In an unrelated incident, another player fell and hit his head Wednesday at the school during training, police said. His injuries were not life-threatening.
Sachem Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Graham extended condolences to Mileto’s family and friends and said support services will be offered “for as long as needed.”
The team’s training officially starts Monday, and the football season starts in September.