Rock Hill school officials said they will evaluate the ambulance staffing at football games after a tackle at District Three Stadium left Rock Hill High's 17-year-old quarterback waiting for paramedics.
A few minutes before quarterback Corey Wessinger was knocked to the ground with a concussion during Friday night's game against South Pointe, an ambulance that had been at the stadium left with its emergency lights flashing.
After Wessinger went down, athletic trainers, who are qualified to be first-responders at sporting events, rushed to his side. But witnesses said Wessinger lay on the ground for about 15 minutes before another ambulance arrived.
Emergency logs show that an ambulance was dispatched to the stadium at 9:51 p.m. and arrived five minutes later, Piedmont Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Norwood said. Piedmont operates the ambulance service under contract with York County.
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What's unclear is how much time passed before someone called 911.
As for why the ambulance parked at the stadium left, Norwood said company protocol bars her from discussing details about the call. But she said an ambulance can't turn on lights and sirens unless it's responding to a high-priority call.
Wessinger was treated and released later that night. He has returned to school.
But some say his experience was too close a call to continue without the guarantee of an ambulance on site for an entire game.
"An ambulance should be there the whole time," said Jeff Nicholson, a South Pointe High athletic booster club member and former school board candidate. "If somebody had a heart attack, people talk about minutes can save you.
"It's the cost of doing business. You've got to pay the security guards to be there. It's a physical sport, and injuries are prone to happen."
School board Chairman Bob Norwood wants to look into guaranteeing ambulances at games.
"We can't afford to ignore or take lightly an issue when it comes to student safety," he said. "If it's a low-cost item, we need to put it on the table and talk about it."
Rock Hill schools Superintendent Lynn Moody said she plans to meet with athletic directors to discuss how to move forward.
"Anytime we have a situation as unfortunate as that, we always review our practices," she said. "It makes you pause and think."
But it could get complicated and costly.
"We'd love to cover all sports," she said.
The fee for guaranteeing ambulance service with a paramedic and EMT on board would be roughly $240 per game, according to Piedmont. Rock Hill's three high schools, which include Northwestern, play 15 home games this season. That means the cost of ensuring an ambulance's presence for every minute of each game would have been about $3,600.
Piedmont Medical Center provides an ambulance and emergency medical technicians for all varsity home football games at District 3 Stadium on Cherry Road and District 3 South Stadium at South Pointe.
While there's no formal contract, Piedmont provides the service for free with the stipulation that if the ambulance is needed for an emergency, it will leave.
Most nights, an ambulance sits through the game without incident.
"It has worked well until now," Moody said. "Because Piedmont has provided service free of charge, it's not been a topic of conversation."
"We owe them a lot of gratitude," Associate Superintendent Luanne Kokolis said.
David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, said such arrangements are common.
"I suspect if you ask all over South Carolina, that's going to be the agreement," he said.
Indeed, the school districts in York and Chester counties all have similar arrangements.
Piedmont provides the same service for York Comprehensive High School and Westminister Catawba Christian School.
The nonprofit Fort Mill Rescue Squad parks ambulances at Nation Ford and Fort Mill High games.
Rescue squads have ambulances at Clover High games.
Chester County EMS has an ambulance at home games for Chester, Lewisville and Great Falls high schools.
June Wessinger, Corey's mom, said she prefers a guarantee that an ambulance will be there.
"I understand it being a verbal agreement and there's no money, but that was my kid," she said. "I would like to see an agreement to keep the ambulance there for the entire game. I can't imagine any parent that would not say we need an ambulance there. ... There was a fight (at Friday's game). You never know what's going to happen."
The South Pointe and Rock Hill teams got into a brawl after their game. No one was injured in the fight.
Geier said he understands her point but said the informal agreements likely arose for practical reasons. And given the budget cuts South Carolina schools have endured, adding costly programs isn't easy.
"As a physician, I think they need to be there," he said. "But where are you going to take the money from? That's the problem.
"It's tough. And where do you stop? What about (ambulances) at practices? ... And what about other sports?"
Rock Hill school board member Walter Brown said he wants to look into whether guaranteeing ambulance service at games is feasible. But he worried about the flipside.
"I would hate to think that I was out somewhere in a serious wreck or a family member was in a serious wreck and an ambulance was sitting there and didn't move."