FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – A rugby team in northern Colorado is preparing for its next game with heavy hearts after a star teammate died on the field Saturday evening.
Matthew Hammerdorfer, 17, died on the turf after a tackle. The coroner determined he died of cardiac arrest caused by a congenital heart defect.
Grief counselors were at Poudre High School on Monday. The school wanted to help students cope with Hammerdorfer’s death. He was very well known at school and was a star athlete who spent some of his Saturdays at Warren Park teaching rugby.
Hammerdorfer’s coach, Mike Prevish, says it’s hard to think about going on without his captain, but that’s what the team wants to do.
“He was absolutely fantastic. He was our MVP last year as a sophomore,” Prevish said. “He’s just one of those people who has a great attitude and loved the game.”
As Hammerdorfer went in for a high tackle the other player turned into him and his shoulder hit Hammerdorfer’s chest.
“It wasn’t an exceptionally hard hit by any means,” Prevish said.
“If you get hit in the chest, just in a specific instant in time, that can cause sudden death,” Dr. Michael Schaffer with The Children’s Hospital said.
In Hammerdorfer’s case the coroner ruled it wasn’t the hit that killed him, but a congenital heart defect in which he had three surgeries to correct.
“He assured this wasn’t an issue, his parents assured us it wasn’t an issue,” Prevish said.
“After surgery repair some are considered cured and children are cleared to play all sports,” Schaffer said.
Hammerdorfer didn’t let his condition stop him from being active. Friends say he loved playing basketball and rugby.
“Sudden death in high school athletes while sensational and tragic is very uncommon,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer says it’s so rare one in two million high-schoolers die from sudden cardiac arrest.
Now Hammerdorfer’s team has to say goodbye to their captain, but decided together to play the rest of the season in his name.
“They’re in favor of going and playing their hearts out for Matt,” Prevish said.
The team will start practice on Wednesday and will play their first game without Hammerdorfer this weekend.