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Jeff Sims says program where he used to coach did not contribute to death of Braeden Bradforth

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Braeden Bradforth

This image of Braeden Bradforth shows in uniform for the Neptune High School football team.

Missouri Southern State University's head football coach Jeff Sims said this week that the death of Braeden Bradforth when they were both at Garden City Community College had nothing to do with the conditioning drills run the night Bradforth died.

"Nothing we did at football practice was the cause," Sims told the Globe on Wednesday during the MIAA football media day in Kansas City.

Others, however, say there are still many unanswered questions about the events leading up to Bradforth's death and Sims' coaching practices the day the player died.

KCUR, a public radio station in Kansas City, also reported that Sims told them Bradforth's death was not his fault and that Sims added: "It's unfortunate what happened, but God has a plan."

Bradforth's family, however, and lawmakers who are seeking answers have called Bradforth's death "preventable."

"The reality is I’m very sympathetic to Braeden and his family and everyone involved in this process," Sims said in a phone conversation with the Globe on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of Bradforth's death. "I just want all of the people to have all of the facts and information. ... Today’s not a good day for anybody, and my heart goes out to Braeden and his family."

Sims also said on Thursday, "I don't know why everything happened, but I am confident that everything we did as a football program was appropriate."

Jill Greene, an attorney representing Bradforth's mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, said Thursday that the cause of Bradforth's death "is not disputed."

"He died of exertional heatstroke," she said in response to Sims' comments. "A well-respected pathologist did a very thorough evaluation, and the autopsy report couldn’t be more clear that he died of exertional heatstroke. ... The facts speak for themselves, and they say otherwise."

At the time of his death, Bradforth, 19, of Neptune, New Jersey, was a football player at Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas, where Sims was the head coach. Sims left Garden City after the 2018 season to lead the football program at MSSU.

In May, after much public criticism, the community college's board of trustees authorized the school to spend up to $100,000 on an outside investigation into the August 2018 death of Bradforth.

"I am supposed to meet with them on Aug. 29 and I will meet with them on Aug. 29 and we'll go from there. ... By the way, that will be my third time that I have met with people," Sims said, referring to an initial investigation done after Bradforth died and a later internal investigation conducted by the college.

Greene also said Bradforth's hometown in New Jersey held an event on Thursday to remember him.

"We had a gathering at the Pop Warner football field where Braeden played as a young kid," Greene said. "It was a gathering of the community. The mayor of Neptune Township was there, Congressman Chris Smith was there. It was a tremendous turnout and really moving to see. I would say there was at least 150, maybe 200 people there. It was a really, really beautiful event to memorialize Braeden."

'Preventable'

Bradforth collapsed on the Garden City campus less than an hour after a conditioning session on Aug. 1, 2018 — one day after he arrived at the college to continue his football career. Bradforth was pronounced dead after being transported to a Garden City hospital later in the night.

In late November, an autopsy report concluded Bradforth, a 300-pound lineman, died of exertional heatstroke.

Bradforth's mother and her attorney have been trying to get more information about what happened.

“Based on all of the facts we’ve gathered since the day my son died, I believe his death was absolutely preventable,” Atkins-Ingram said in an interview with the Globe this spring.

New Jersey Sen. Vin Gopal in January asked Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to lead an independent investigation into Bradforth’s death, as well as the professional practices of Sims, the rest of the Garden City coaching staff and the athletics department.

“Braeden’s death was entirely preventable," Gopal wrote. He also wrote of Bradforth, "His time was cut short by what may have been a carelessness and a callous disregard for safety by those who were entrusted to care for him."

The Kansas attorney general, however, declined to take up the case.

In April, all 12 New Jersey members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Smith, also called on Ryan Ruda, president of Garden City Community College, to conduct an outside investigation.

The community college in May released its "Summary of Internal Review," its own report into the death, but it has never responded to Globe requests for interviews. The report noted Bradforth had participated in a second workout on the day he died, beginning at 7 p.m. It consisted of 36 50-yard sprints, with 30 seconds of rest between each sprint.

"They were provided water," the report states.

It notes that the temperature was 84 degrees that evening at practice, and that more than a dozen coaches and trainers were on hand at the time, and that ice towels, an ice chest, water and Gatorade were plentiful. It also notes that no one reported Bradforth showing any signs of problems during the practice or heard him complaining about the drills.

The report states:

"Practice ended at approximately 9:05 p.m. and a team meeting was held immediately following in the Academic Building’s lecture hall on the campus. ... Coach Caleb Young reported that he was trying to get the last three or four players to gather their things quickly to get back to campus for the meeting. Coach Young stated that as they were walking from the football field, he noticed Braeden stumbled a little trying to speed up before regaining his balance. Coach Young responded to him by saying, 'Hey, you’re good. Let’s go,' to which Braeden responded back, 'Yeah, I’m good. I’m good.'

"Braeden started walking in the direction of the dorms and Coach Young asked him if he was quitting. Braeden did not respond with words, but rather shook his head, in what appeared to Coach Young as disappointment, and Braeden continued to walk away. Coach Young reported to the team meeting at approximately 9:15 p.m. and informed Braeden’s position coach that he had apparently quit the team and walked to the dorms. Coach Young reported that the team meeting was about 20 minutes long, after which Coach Sims dismissed the team to their rooms for the night. A few minutes later, an athlete reported that there was a football player passed out outside."

Young responded, and then called Sims, who instructed him to call the head trainer, TJ Horton, who had just left the campus. Sims also called Horton, who returned to the scene and began an assessment. It is not clear from the report if Sims also went to Bradforth's assistance.

Emergency responders were called at 10 p.m.; Bradforth was pronounced dead not long afterward.

The attorney for the Bradforth's family, as well as Smith, have pressured Garden City Community College to get an independent, outside review, and characterized the college's internal review as inadequate.

Smith also noted that the college's report that water was provided is inconsistent with some media reports that indicate water may have been withheld from players. Globe attempts to reach Garden City players who were there that day and talk to them on the record have not been successful.

Greene also has said the family is considering a lawsuit against the community college.

Contact Jared Porter on Twitter at @JaredRyanPorter.

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