It will be three years almost to the day since Will suffered heat stroke at the end of a Pulaski High School football practice on August 13, 2010. Thanks to the quick actions of his athletic trainer who moved him into the showers and began cooling him with water and ice Will is focusing on his future. He is currently a sophomore at the University of Arkansas and hopes to attend law school. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Tyler Davenport, another Arkansas high school football player who suffered heat stroke at the same time as Will and did not survive. In spending some time speaking with Will it is obvious how much his recovery and Tyler’s death has motivated him to educate others about how to prevent heat illness. “Heat illness is 100% preventable. Every time I do an interview I am honoring Tyler’s memory and helping people understand that there are consequences for not knowing what to do.”
Since Will’s injury he has become involved in several organizations that promote heat illness prevention and has been featured on television programs on the topic. You are already familiar with him as an original ASA™ ambassador for Advocates for Injured Athletes, but he is also very involved with the Kendrick Fincher Hydration Foundation. This foundation was started by Rhonda Fincher following the death of her son on August 25, 1995 from heat stroke following a junior high school football practice in Rogers, Arkansas. The Foundation focuses specifically on preventing heat illness and Will has worked closely with this organization, telling his story in hopes of helping others.
Will was contacted by Advocates for Injured Athletes to film a video regarding his experience with heat illness and to help others prevent and treat the condition, making him a founding ASA™ ambassador. The video filming was a three-day event that involved his coaches, teammates and his entire family working hard in the August heat. Will’s mom opened her home to the San Diego-based film crew during the entire filming process. The end result was a film that is shown at every ASA™ program and has already been viewed by approximately 1500 athletes. Athletes know what to do because of Will and his video and A4IA hopes that the video will be seen by every middle school and high school athlete in the country. Advocates for Injured Athletes and its founder Beth Mallon are forever grateful and thankful for the time and effort Will and his family put in to making the heat illness video and the ASA™ program such a success. As Beth Mallon says, “He is a gifted speaker and tells a genuine, compelling story that athletes listen to!”
Will was most recently featured on ESPN’s Outside the Lines (originally aired August 11, 2013 at 9a EST) in a piece titled, “Heat Stroke”. The airing discusses the connection between heat illness and football and the research that is being done to prevent it. Along with featuring Will and Tyler’s stories, it discusses Korey Stringer and speaks with the Korey Stringer Institute’s Doug Casa, Chief Operating Officer, in an effort to understand where we’ve been and where we’re going in our efforts to prevent heat illness in all sports, but especially football. You can check out ESPN’s website to see when the episode will be re-aired.
He was previously featured on PBS’s Frontline in a piece titled, “Football High”, taking a look inside the high profile nature of many high school football programs around the country. Asking the question, “Is it worth the risk?” The piece touches on the many potential dangers of high school football ranging from concussions and heat illness. This programming originally aired in 2011, but is still available online by clicking HERE.
In my brief interaction with Will, he admitted that the first year following his injury was tough, he just wanted to put it behind him. Now, telling his story is much easier and he realizes telling his story means telling Tyler’s. Will and Tyler’s stories will always be connected, not just because they were both admitted to Children’s Hospital in Little Rock together, but because Will is so committed to honoring Tyler’s memory. Will remains in touch with the Davenport’s today and visit’s Tyler’s resting place every chance he gets.
The power of storytelling is evident in Will’s efforts and the number of untold athletes he’s helped understand the dangers of heat illness. Never has a story made it so clear that knowledge is power. Knowing what to do can make all the difference.
Heat illness IS 100% preventable.
Do YOU know what to do?
A special thanks to Will James for taking the time to speak with me by phone in order to write this piece. It was my privilege to meet such a great young man who is willing to relive his story in an effort to help others.