Sports are supposed to be an escape from the worries of this world — paying the rent, relationship troubles and even the unfortunate mortality of man.
However, sometimes serious situations creep inside of stadiums and gyms, like the one Friday night at Chatham High.
Luckily, a referee is alive today, almost certainly because of fast-acting first responders who sprung into action at the first sign of trouble.
Mark Strosnider, a 20-plus-year veteran basketball official out of Lynchburg, took the court like he had so many other times for Chatham’s playoff game with Floyd County, whistle dangling from his neck and zebra-striped shirt tucked neatly into his black slacks. There was no reason to believe Friday would be any different from the hundreds of other games he’d called over the years.
But just two minutes into the game, the routine changed. Strosnider crumpled to the floor helplessly, sending Aaron Taylor, the contracted athletic trainer on site from Spectrum Medical in Danville, immediately into action.
The next 10 to 15 minutes were a blur to Taylor and his fellow first responders that included Chatham coaches Charles Warren and Anthony Thomas, along with a couple of nurses who bolted from the stands to help.
When Taylor first arrived to Strosnider’s side, he was still breathing, but not well. At that point, Warren called 911 as Taylor and others tended to the referee. Shallow, troubled breathing went on for about 30 to 45 seconds before it stopped completely, signaling cardiac arrest.
That sent responders into full-blown life-saving mode. Taylor immediately began performing CPR — it was his first time performing the task, despite being certified for 16 years — as another person ran to retrieve the automated external defibrillator (AED). The shock from the AED revived Strosnider for a few minutes before his breathing stopped again. Then a second shock went through the referee’s body, this time restarting his ailing heart for good.
“If it weren’t for the AED, more than likely, he wouldn’t be [alive],” Taylor said. After five minutes, you have little to no chance of survival.”
By the time an ambulance arrived — an estimated 15 minutes after the collapse — Strosnider was breathing without help. As of Saturday afternoon, he was alert and in stable condition.
In fact, Taylor visited Strosnider in the hospital, where the referee thanked him for helping save his life. Colonial Officials Association head of boy’s basketball officiating Charles Trent also received text messages from Strosnider, expressing his thanks to the first responders at Chatham High.
“My telephone has absolutely exploded with fellow officials, coaches and even fans wondering how [Strosnider] is doing,” Trent said.
He’s been joyfully relieved to tell them the good news.
In the gym Friday, the two teams decided to continue with the game after some debate.
“I was more on the side of moving the game to another day, but I knew Floyd County came a long way,” Warren said. “Ultimately, we wanted the players to decide because they’d probably never seen something like this before.”
After conferring with players, the teams decided to play as another official made his way from Danville. Chatham ended up losing to Floyd, but that wasn’t what resonated in the minds of the people who shuffled out of the school doors and into the parking lot after the buzzer sounded.
“It was a big eye-opener to everyone who was in the gym that night,” Warren said. “Everyone realized this kind of thing could happen to them.”