Parents push for new athletic policies after lightning injures six at Picacho football practice


POSTED: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - 7:54pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - 8:19pm

Hunter Keffer, 13, remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday night, after he and five others were struck by lightning during football practice at Picacho Middle School in Las Cruces the previous evening.

Parents of Keffer’s teammates said the incident was avoidable and are now pushing the Las Cruces Public Schools district to update their sports cancellation protocol.

“They should have cancelled practice as soon as they first saw lightning,” said Aaron Quezada, who witnessed other parents performing CPR on Keffer when he arrived to pick his son up from football practice.

“Several of the kids [on the team] had told the coaches, ‘We see lightning!’ and they chose to ignore it. The main point that we need to make is that [the school] did have warning… They should have gotten the kids off the field.”

Coaches at Lynn Middle School, another school in the LCPS district about 4 miles east of Picacho, did cancel Monday’s football practice.

Quezada told NewsChannel 9 he “is angry and disappointed” Picacho didn’t do the same and “endangered the lives of all these boys.”

“We need some new rules about when to cancel practice and who gets to decide when it’s too dangerous to be out there. It should be the same across the board, at all the schools in the [LCPS district].”

According to Jo Galvan, the LCPS spokeswoman, there is currently no official athletic cancellation policy; only protocol that generally leaves it up to individual coaches to decide whether or not to go ahead with scheduled practices.

Galvan told NewsChannel 9 the schools use a lightning meter to gauge the severity of storm-related danger and “usually cancel sports when there’s lightning in the vicinity of 5 to 7 miles away.”

She said school officials saw nothing on the meter that raised concern until 30 seconds prior to the incident at Picacho, when lightning struck ten miles away.

“We will certainly sit down and discuss whether or not changes could be made to our [current] athletic protocol,” said Galvan.

According to National Weather Service meteorologists, waiting until lightning is visible to take precautions may be too late.

“There is no safe place outside when there’s lightning,” said Tim Brice, a forecaster based in Santa Teresa who said all outdoor athletics should be postponed as soon as there is thunder.

“We have a saying here [at the National Weather Service]: ‘When thunder roars, go indoors.’”

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