Tragedy can strike in the sporting world, at any level, and at any time. During pregame warmups for a March 10 men's lacrosse game at Franklin Field between the Rochester Institute of Technology and Springfield (Mass.) College, RIT freshman midfielder Todd Bernhardt was struck in the chest by an errant shot, collapsed to the turf and went into cardiac arrest. Bernhardt was revived at the scene before being transported across the street to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The Penfield, N.Y., native spent eight days in critical care but could not recover from his injury. He died just after 8 p.m. on Saturday at age 19. Even though it was not a Penn player involved in this accident, this shocking turn of events has had a profound impact on the Quakers players and coaches. "Obviously this was a great tragedy, and it's going to have an impact -- it effects every single kid in a different way," said Penn men's lacrosse coach Marc Van Arsdale, whose brother was the coach of RIT for 12 years before stepping down prior to this season. "I don't pretend to know how it will affect 43 different kids from our team, from Bucknell, from RIT or the fans who saw it." The Penn men's squad was inside the locker room following a victory over Bucknell at the time of the accident, but was witness to the commotion shortly thereafter. Although no members of the Quakers went to school with Bernhardt, the team as a whole was still hesitant to talk about the death. "It was a tragic accident, and our condolences go out to the family and friends of [Bernhardt]," Penn co-captain Todd Minerley said after the Quakers' victory over Lafayette on Tuesday. For many involved in lacrosse at Penn, this tragedy served as a wake-up call concerning the danger of the sport they play. Helmets, shoulder and rib pads are mandatory in men's lacrosse, and Bernhardt was wearing these during the pregame warmups. But only goalies wear chest pads, and it was in the freshman's unprotected chest that the rapidly-moving ball hit. "You just don't want to think about those things," said Penn women's lacrosse captain Emily Foote, a Daily Pennsylvanian sportswriter. "I think you like to feel like you're a little bit invincible. This is just a reality check, and puts things in perspective." Even though the Quakers' women's squad was on the road at Old Dominion at the time of the accident, and even though women's lacrosse is primarily non-contact in nature, the death certainly resonates across gender lines. "It's just a hard thing to swallow -- just that it's so close to home, and it could have happened to a Penn player, boy or girl," Foote said. "When it does happen, you just say prayers for the family and so that it doesn't happen again." While this tragedy shocked the lacrosse world, the form of cardiac arrest that is brought on by a sudden blow to the chest is not an isolated incident. "This is something that has unfortunately happened in the past," Van Arsdale said. "It happened to a high school goalie on Long Island last year and to a UMass player in practice two years ago. And I witnessed it firsthand with a high school boy 12 years ago in a camp I was running." The game between RIT and Springfield was postponed, and is currently listed on the Tigers' Web site as "cancelled." It is not known whether the match will be replayed.Comments powered by Disqus
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