Coroner: Player died of heart issue

A South Carolina high school football player who collapsed and died during the team’s homecoming game had suffered a sudden irregular heartbeat brought on by having been born with an enlarged heart, a coroner said Saturday.

Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee said that an autopsy revealed 18-year-old Ronald Rouse suffered a fatal sudden cardiac arrhythmia resulting from a congenital enlarged heart. Hardee said the death resulted from natural causes.

Rouse was a 6-foot-3, 320-pound lineman for Hartsville High School who collapsed during the second quarter of the team’s Friday night game against Crestwood High School.

Rouse had gotten into his stance on the defensive line ahead of a play, but then stood up and called a timeout before the ball was snapped, Darlington County School District spokeswoman Audrey Childers said. He started to walk off the field when he collapsed for the first time. Three team doctors and two athletic trainers ran from the sideline to help Rouse, who was revived and even spoke to his father, Childers said.

Rouse got up and he began to walk off the field when he collapsed a second time, Childers said. The physicians and trainers provided first aid, including the use of a defibrillator to try shocking his heart, until an ambulance arrived, Childers said.

A volunteer rescue squad that usually provides emergency medical services at Hartsville home football games was not there Friday, the school district said in a statement.

Rouse had showed no signs of distress before his first collapse, Childers said.

The teams played the remaining 3:39 of the first half with Hartsville winning 27-7. The players didn’t return to the field for the second half, and Hartsville Principal Charles Burry announced over the public address system that the game was suspended due to the seriousness of Rouse’s condition.

Rouse was pronounced dead at a hospital.

"Ronald was a joy to know," Burry said. "He was a big, friendly guy who enjoyed school, playing ball, and life. He was also an intelligent young man, whose perspective on life had some unusual depth for someone of his age."

Counselors were waiting to talk with the other football players when they returned to the school, officials said.

"It’s heartbreaking to lose a young man so full of promise," said Dr. Rainey Knight, district superintendent.