WALLKILL, N.Y. — A tragedy has befallen this Ulster County hamlet with the death of a Wallkill (N.Y.) High School varsity football player on Monday.
Miguel Lugo, 17, suffered a medical emergency following the first day of practice. According to a statement from the Wallkill Central School District, he was transported to the hospital, where he later died.
No cause of death has been determined. A call to the Ulster (N.Y.) County medical examiner’s office was not returned late Tuesday afternoon.
Lugo was listed as a 6-foot, 180-pound middle and outside linebacker on the website Hudl, and he might have been moved to the free safety position.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by a family member. As of late afternoon Tuesday, a total of $10,875 was raised through 195 donors over three hours, exceeding a goal for $10,000.
“My 17 year old nephew, Miguel Antonio Lugo, tragically passed suddenly on Monday evening at football practice,’’ wrote his aunt, Angela Morales. “He was a vibrant and healthy boy who lit up any room that he walked in. Now his family is left here to wonder why. Why Miguel. He had a heart of gold and anyone who knew him loved him dearly.
“Now with his unexpected passing, his family is left to plan for his funeral. No parent should have to worry about the expenses to pay for their child’s services. Both parents will have a loss of work wages in addition to planning his funeral. Any amount will help and all of the love, support, and prayers are appreciated.
“We will never know why the Lord took him home so soon, clearly he needed an angel so he took one of the best.’’
David Coates, chairman of New York’s Section 9 football committee, expressed sympathy over Lugo’s passing.
“This is extremely sad,’’ Coates said. “You hate to see it happen to anybody, but being so young, Miguel had his whole life ahead of him. … Our heart and prayers go out to the Lugo family and to the Wallkill community. Just sad, an extremely sad day for Section 9 football.’’
It is believed to be the first death of an Ulster County football player since Clifford Secor, a 15-year-old sophomore for Onteora, died in a junior varsity game against Highland on Halloween 1969. The varsity teams canceled their Nov. 1 game as a result.
Spackenkill football player Mark Milano died on Oct. 7, 2006, a day after sustaining a dislocated ankle in a game against Millbrook. The junior was treated at hospital and released. He died in his sleep.
This is the third death of a football participant in Section 9 in the past year. Roscoe coach and athletic director Fred Ahart and New Paltz coach and Section 9 committee member John Ford both passed from cancer since last season. Coates, the athletic director at Middletown and former football coach, said he would expect Section 9 and other high schools to pay respects to the departed when the regular season starts March 12-13.
Lugo was well-respected by members of the community, as noted with dozens of social media postings.
“I recall coaching against him twice last year,’’ noted New Paltz assistant coach Alan Affuso on Facebook. “Number 25 was as good as they get on the football field. He was real good! It was what he loved most! My heart hurts so bad for his family and my daughter.’’
Monday was the first day athletes could begin practice for the “Fall II” season after it was shifted from the traditional autumn dates over concerns of COVID-19. The Fall II sports include football and soccer, with many teams forced indoors or to parking lots in order to practice due to snow-covered fields from the Feb. 1-2 storm that blanketed parts of the area with up to three feet of snow.
As a contact sport, football teams are required to practice 10 times before being allowed to compete; other sports have received waivers to hold as few as six practices because of the condensed seasons.
New York state scholastic athletes are required for medical screenings by family physicians or school doctors before taking part in athletics. Because of the pandemic, doctors have also warned of potential, lingering cardiac damage following bouts with COVID-19. It is unclear whether or not Lugo had contracted the virus at any point.
Coates said he wants to assure parents that football is a safe sport to play.
“There’s an inherent risk that you take with playing any sport … I don’t know if that’s going to go away,’’ Coates said. “But sports and football, we take every precaution necessary to be as safe as possible. I know that sports are safe.’’
Follow the Times Herald-Record’s Ken McMillan on Twitter @KenMcMillanTHR.