It was the fourth quarter with 2 minutes left until the end of the junior varsity football game against Lake Weir High School.
Citrus High School freshman Chip Stoskopf had sat patiently on the bench every week since the start of the season.
But this game, Thursday, Oct. 8, 1992, coach Ken Berry had promised the eager young wide receiver that he could play.
“That game — his dream the whole year was for him and his best friend Frank to play in a game together,” said Chip’s mom, Connie Denney, from her home in Fort Myers. “Frank had been injured at the beginning of the season and this was Frank’s first game that he was going to play in. The coach called both their names, and they ran out on the field together.”
Chip took his place on the line of scrimmage. The ball was snapped, a whistle blew and Chip collapsed on the field before he even had a chance to play.
Later, an autopsy would reveal that he died from sudden cardiac arrest.
He had an irregular heartbeat in the lower chamber of his heart that would have most likely not been detected through a stethoscope, but would have been found with an EKG screening.
Now, 25 years after his death, Chip’s mother, one of Chip’s childhood friends and the nonprofit organization Who We Play For are crusading to have EKG screenings as part of the mandatory physicals for school athletes.
Their mission is to reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) death in teens and young adults.
Who We Play For, a national organization, comes into communities and provides EKG screenings for student athletes for $20, explained Evan Ernst, Who We Play For founder.
“In some communities, local hospitals will cover the cost,” Ernst said. “All we need is for school districts to say, ‘We want to do this,’ and then collect the consent forms as part of the sports physical packets and tell us what day to be there.”
Jamie McBrearty, soccer coach at Leon High School in Tallahassee, was the one who recently put Connie Denney in touch with Ernst.
McBrearty, Chip’s childhood friend, said they played soccer together as kids in the East Citrus Soccer League.
“I remember Chip as a hard worker,” McBrearty said. “As a teammate throughout middle school, he was one of those kind of guys who was very disciplined, very respectful. Now that I’m a coach, Chip is the kind of guy that coaches want on their team.”
Chip wasn’t always the ideal kid.
“He was ornery; he had behavior problems,” Connie Denney said. “I was a single parent, divorced, and he had learning disabilities — severe dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.”
They had lived in Ohio, moved to Indiana and then to Floral City in 1986 when Chip was in third grade.
“Once we moved away from Ohio, he changed into a wonderful person,” Denney said.
Chip was able to receive help for his disabilities, including a tutor and ESE classes.
He played soccer, did archery and golfed with the Tri-County Golf Team.
“He also showed dogs professionally all over the state of Florida,” Denney said.
Chip particularly liked Boston terriers, and at 11 when his mom said he could have a dog, he did his own research on the breed.
“He liked them because they had a great personality,” Denney said. “In February — if he hadn’t died in October — he was headed to the Westminster Dog Show in New York.”
Although for many boys, playing high school football is their ultimate dream, Chip actually wanted to be on the wrestling team.
“He was convinced that the only way to get on the wrestling team was to first get on the football team,” Denney said. “He’d tell me, ‘That’s the way the system works.’
“I didn’t want him to play football, and even offered him $500 not to do it,” she said. “I didn’t like football because kids get hurt ... but Chip wanted to do it. So, I said if he kept his grades up, he could play. It was hard for him, but he was determined.”
He was determined to make the football team, and then the wrestling team. He was determined to go to college, to study business and to be a professional dog handler.
The week before the game against Lake Weir, Chip almost quit the team.
Although he didn’t complain to the coach, he was disappointed that he hadn’t been put in a game.
“I told him, ‘You’ve never quit anything before in your life. You wanted to play this, so you’re going to go to the coach on Monday and you’re going to be a man, sit down and tell the coach why you want to quit.’ He went in, but he never had to say a word to the coach,” Denney said.
She said the coach had called Chip up in front of the whole team, put his arm around his shoulders and said, “I totally forgot to play you, but you didn’t come crying to me like some of the other kids do when I tell them they can’t play.”
“That made him really, really, really happy,” she said. “And he promised to play him in the next game.”
Recalling the events of that game, Denney said it was pouring down rain. When she saw Chip collapse on the field, she climbed out of the stands and rushed to the fence at the edge of the field, her own mother screaming behind her.
“The assistant coach was at the fence and I said, ‘How do I get over this fence? — I’m his mom.’ I don’t know how I did it, but I got over the fence,” she said. “When I got to him, the minute I touched his hand, I knew he wasn’t alive. I started yelling. ...”
A woman who identified herself as a cardiac physical therapist also rushed onto the field and got Chip’s heart beating and stayed with him until the ambulance came.
They rushed Chip to Munroe Regional Hospital in Ocala.
“That was Thursday, and he died on Friday, Oct. 9, at 4:30 in the afternoon,” Denney said. “They kept working on him, but I said, ‘That’s it. He’s done. He needs to be at peace.’
“It’s been 25 years and our young athletes are still dying on football and soccer fields and basketball courts, and we can stop this,” she said. “There are tests out there that most of us parents don’t realize we should have done for our children. If I would’ve known, I definitely would’ve had it done.”
- The mission of Who We Play For (WWPF) is to provide affordable cardiac screening for student athletes. To date WWPF — a nonprofit organization that was launched on the campus of Florida State University — has tested more than 95,000 athletes and has detected 66 cardiac conditions in athletes that might have caused their death on the ball field or court.
- For more information, visit whoweplayfor.org.