In the most important moment of the season, Mart’s football coaches didn’t hesitate. They reacted — quickly.
And Aiden Gast is alive today because they did.
The old saying holds that a coach “gets too much credit when the team wins, and gets too much blame when it loses.” There is more than a kernel of truth found in those words. A coach can craft the most excellent game plan, he can push the right buttons when it comes to personnel or strategy, he can deliver a stirring motivational speech that would rival any cinematic soliloquy, but he can’t throw the ball for the athlete. He can’t deliver a block or make a tackle.
But here’s where coaches, particularly those on the high school level, probably don’t get enough credit. For much of the year, they are the caretakers for our kids. They’re Dad when Dad can’t be there, they’re Mom when Mom isn’t around.
It’s no wonder why they often use the word “family” to describe their teams. They spend as much time around their football families as they do the ones that share their last names.
And when one of your family members is in need of help, you jump to their rescue. That’s just what you do.
Mart’s Kevin Hoffman loves his players, and his assistant coaches feel the same way. So last Monday afternoon, when Gast collapsed to the turf during practice, in clear distress, they wasted no time rushing to his aid.
“Initially, we thought he might be having a seizure,” Hoffman said. “Then Coach (Landry) Williams and Coach (Shane) Martin rolled him onto his side, and saw that he was not breathing. Coach Williams checked for a pulse. His lips were turning purple, his eyes rolled back, he wasn’t breathing. They couldn’t find a pulse. I called 9-1-1, and they started working on him, started the process of CPR.”
In Texas, coaches are required to be certified in CPR and first aid training. It’s one of those things you train for, you plan for, and yet hope never is necessary.
Last Monday in Mart, it became necessary. Gast wasn’t having a seizure. Instead, the 16-year-old backup quarterback was in the throes of a heart attack.
“It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered in coaching, during practice, a game, any athletic event,” Hoffman said. “We go through (CPR/first aid) training every two years, but it’s one of those things you think will never happen.”
The training served the coaches well. So did their quick thinking and cool heads in what could have been a frantic situation. The coaches were able to revive Gast, and get him breathing again before an ambulance arrived.
He was treated and eventually released. Gast has undergone a battery of tests since, as doctors try to determine the cause of his attack.
But he’s still here.
Not only here on the planet, but Gast was even there on the sideline at AT&T Stadium two days later as his teammates rolled to a record-setting 76-33 win over Gruver to claim their second straight state championship.
“The doctors released him to come to the game, and it was just good to see him there, for him to be part of our team on the sideline,” Hoffman said. “And especially for everyone to know that he was going to be OK.”
Coaches are pretty attuned to the importance of preparation. They spend hours each week breaking down film of upcoming opponents, crafting schemes that they think could result in a successful play and, hopefully, a victory.
But new games, new opponents — that’s the stuff you expect. No high school football coach ever gets out of bed in the morning and thinks to himself, “I’d better be ready to perform some chest compressions today.” That’s absolute worst-case scenario stuff.
Fortunately, Mart’s coaches were prepared anyway.
“I would try to let every coach, every person, know to take your (first aid) training seriously,” Hoffman said. “Learn as much as you can. Always take your AED (automated external defibrillator) to every practice, every game. Have it close by at the stadium. … Because you never know. We were prepared. No one froze, no one panicked. We just reacted, and started taking care of him.”
Gast is a Mart Panther. He’s a player entrusted to the care of those coaches, and they cared for him like he was one of their own children.
But here’s the thing — I think even if it were a perfect stranger, those men in the Mart caps would have still jumped in and helped. It’s in their nature.
“Out in the real world, out eating dinner with our wife, if someone were to collapse and start choking or having a heart attack, anything like that, I feel confident that any member of my coaching staff would know exactly what to do in that environment, and take control of the situation,” Hoffman said.
Aiden Gast is living proof.