JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Sandalwood High player collapsed at halftime of a basketball game Monday afternoon and later was pronounced dead at Memorial Medical Center.
Phillip Jackson, 18, a senior who played defensive end for Sandalwood's football team and center on the basketball team, had played the entire second quarter of a game against Nease High in a holiday tournament at Terry Parker High.
After a brief talk from coach Rocky Cusack at halftime, the players started filing out the door to return to the court. That's when Jackson collapsed.
"It looked like he had a small seizure right before he fell to the floor," Cusack said. "Before that, he seemed fine. He didn't play the first quarter, but he played all of the second quarter."
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue workers received the call at about 3:30 p.m. and arrived at the scene shortly after.
Cusack said that Jackson had a slight pulse when paramedics arrived at the school. Jackson's parents were in the stands for the game and accompanied their son to the hospital.
"You just wish you could do something more," a shaken Cusack said. "At this point all we can do is offer our support and our prayers to the family."
Several of Jackson's teammates along with a number of Sandalwood students gathered at the hospital to pay tribute to their teammate and friend.
"He was a super kid and a great athlete that was in real good shape," Cusack said. "He had never shown any signs or symptoms of any problem nor did he have any injury from football.
"Phillip was such a good kid and was well-liked by everyone. It's just a freak of nature of playing the game."
Nease coach Scott Cooper had just come out of his locker room at halftime when a Sandalwood player yelled for him to call 911.
"I didn't know what the situation was but I made the call right away," Cooper said. "Then I saw Phil laying on the floor in their locker room. By that time his mom was there and I gave her the phone and she talked to them.
"Our kids were severely shaken by what happened there today. They shed some tears as did I. You throw basketball away when something like this happens."
Principal Victoria Schultz was fighting back emotion as she waited with students at Memorial.
"He is a wonderful, wonderful boy," she said. "He hugged me every day."
Later Monday, Schultz opened the school's gymnasium so students could have a place to gather and mourn. Jackson's family joined them Monday night.
Shamier Holmes, 19, graduated from Sandalwood last year and played on the basketball team with Jackson last season. Holmes said he was at the game on Monday and came to Sandalwood's gym.
The news was hitting him hard.
"Because he was just playing basketball," he said.
Jackson was a father, Schultz said, and his commitment to school, fatherhood, and his academics was inspiring.
"He was somebody who doesn't quit," she said. "To be on the football team, on the basketball team, have your own child and still keep your academics up, it shows that you're a winner."
Yolanda Simmons, an assistant pastor at New Covenant Ministries, where Jackson and his family attended, said he was full of life.
"He was a healthy, wonderful young man," Simmons said. "Very vivacious; he was just getting ready to do some things with our children's ministry."
The game was part of an annual Arlington Lions Club tournament that the school hosts each year during the holiday break.
Cusack said the Saints were withdrawing from the tournament and wouldn't play again until January.
Parker coach Elijah Wells said the eight-team tournament, which was scheduled to be played through Wednesday, was postponed. He indicated a decision would be made after Christmas whether this year's event would be played out.
Sandalwood football coach Adam Geis coached Jackson during his freshman, sophomore and senior years.
"Phil was a different person his senior season," Geis said. "He didn't play football as a junior but came back this season and rededicated himself to work as hard as he could, both in the classroom and on the field.
"We had just finished putting together his individual highlight tape that we were going to send out to some schools. He already had received interest from Florida Atlantic and Florida International, and I guarantee you that after schools had seen this tape, they would have an interest in him. I know he was going to be a success wherever he ended up."