LA CENTER — For Cody Sherrell, Tuesday afternoon represented more than the opening day of practice for La Center Middle School’s basketball team. It marked the realization of a dream.
Sherrell, 14, loved basketball but shied away from trying out for the school team the previous year, his parents told school officials. This fall, the eighth-grader overcame his reluctance and worked hard on his classwork, his game and his relationships with teachers and peers to lay the foundation for Tuesday.
By all accounts, it was a success. Coaches described Sherrell as “highly active” during practice.
It was in the practice’s waning moments when everything changed.
Two days after suffering sudden cardiac arrest, Sherrell remained in critical condition at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland. Doctors there placed the boy in therapeutic hypothermia — a condition that dropped his temperature between 90 to 93 degrees — to reduce the risk of brain damage.
Sherrell’s family and friends were heartbroken by his current state, La Center Middle School Principal David Cooke said. Yet, they took solace that he achieved his goal of playing basketball with the school team.
“While his parents were devastated by what happened, they were happy he was on the court,” Cooke said, seated inside the office of Kristin Krem, a school counselor with the La Center School District. “He was doing what he wanted to do.”
Response details emerge
Coaches and parents who tended to Sherrell after he collapsed shared their stories for the first time during a Thursday afternoon press conference in La Center High School’s conference room.
Coaches were about to give a final pep talk before closing practice when a player alerted head coach Tom Rice to Sherrell’s life-threatening condition. Rice laid Sherrell on his back while other coaches cleared the gym of players and parents, who had arrived to pick up their children.
“He was breathing but he was not responsive,” Rice said, noting his prior training as a first responder took over.
When Rice tired, parent Greg Morgan stepped in to continue CPR. Morgan’s main goal, he said, was to “keep his airway clear and continue chest compressions” on Sherrell.
“It seemed like it took an eternity,” Morgan said.
Rice and Morgan’s efforts likely saved the boy from dying inside the gym.
“Without their quick actions and the CPR performed on Cody,” La Center Superintendent Mark Mansell said, “it could have been a very different position at this point.”
Rice brushed aside suggestions his actions made him a hero. He noted he was “part of a team that assisted.”
“This is difficult for me,” he said, “because I think the focus should be on the young man in the hospital, not what we did.”
Cooke, Mansell and Rice met with Sherrell’s parents at the children’s hospital. The boy’s parents thanked Rice and also inquired about their son's teammates.
“It kind of blew us away, because they were just as concerned for the kids as their own son,” Cooke said.
Practice not strenuous
Morgan momentarily choked up while describing his son’s response to his queries about the practice’s strenuousness.
“Dalton said, ‘No dad, it was just some conditioning, running, nothing I felt was tough,’ ” Morgan recalled.
Coaches organized 50 students into three groups on the first day of tryouts. The purpose of the day’s exercises were to gauge where each player was in their fitness and skill level. The students would then be placed on A, B and C teams at a later date.
“From what I saw, not one of the 50 students labored during the practice,” assistant coach Greg Hall said.
Participants were graded up to “5” on different parts of their game. Sherrell scored 4s and 5s, Hall said, describing him as “highly active.”
Rice said he had never seen anything like Sherrell’s collapse in his four-decade coaching career and was adamant that Tuesday’s practice had not been excessive.
Since Tuesday, La Center officials have talked about requiring athletes to have a heart test but have not decided whether to do so, athletics director Aaron McCoy said. State interscholastic regulations do not require such tests.
Sherrell passed a physical prior to Tuesday’s practice. He did not have a history of heart-related issues, doctors said Wednesday.
‘An advocate for himself’
One need look no further than Sherrell’s feet to see how proud his parents were of his decision to play basketball, Cooke said. They purchased him Kobe Bryant’s signature shoe to wear on the court.
Cooke predicted Sherrell’s new shoes might make appearances at La Center Middle School games this winter. The team plans to dedicate its season to Sherrell, coaches said.
Sherrell’s appearance at Tuesday’s tryout embodied him “coming out of his shell,” the principal said, adding he had “become an advocate for himself” this school year.
His eighth-grade teachers selected him the school’s Student of the Month for October. He had also taken an interest in drama and was an outspoken leader in his math class, Cooke said.
His shyness no longer served as an obstacle to what he wanted. He had started taking risks.
“That’s what was so inspiring” about him, Cooke said.