By now, most folks have heard about the life and death situation that unfolded near the end of the Melissa-Celina football game on Oct. 18 at Cardinal Stadium. For those who haven’t heard — a veteran game official, umpire Dennis Bennett, 69, collapsed on the field near the north-end goal line as the Bobcats were driving for a late go-ahead score.
Two who arrived first on the scene — Melissa ISD Licensed Athletic Trainer Jose Mendez and Cardinals team doctor Dr. Andrew Parker — knew right away that the stricken Bennett was facing a serious cardiac episode. Thanks to their quick action, Bennett was revived and we can now report he is doing well at his home in Parker, Texas, with wife Sharon.
“Dr. Parker and Jose did a great job,” Bennett said by phone on Friday. “If it wasn’t for them, it would have been over.”
Moments before the dramatic event occurred, a full house on hand for this key district-showdown had been watching a barn-burner finish on a perfect October evening. Then with 3:19 left to play — whether they knew it or not — they were watching a man’s life being saved.
“The last thing I remember,” Bennett said, “is Celina was driving down and they had a play towards their bench. [After the play], the ball was coming from the referee to me. When I looked at the referee everything went just kind of blurry. … I caught the ball and went to place it on the yard line and that was the last thing I remember before the paramedics were standing over me.”
Melissa ISD boys athletic director Seth Stinton had been standing near the northwest corner of that endzone with his brother Zach Stinton when Zach noticed the official was down. Seth Stinton immediately rushed onto the field, getting to Bennett just after Parker and Mendez. As a host of training staff, medical personnel and administrators from both schools gathered around, Mendez and Parker quickly assessed the situation. Bennett’s pulse was weak, his breathing shallow and labored, and his face was turning pale.
Both teams quickly exited the field for their respective sidelines and huddled in prayer. Chief Kelly Davidson of the Melissa Schools Police Department called 911 as Parker ripped open Bennett’s shirt. Mendez grabbed his walkie-talkie and called on student trainer Katelynn Wagner to rush the Automated External Defibrillator out to them. Just over 75 seconds after her delivery — and after the AED confirmed a shock was needed — Bennett received the instantaneous 3,000-volt charge. Feeling no pulse at the point, Parker began 30 firm chest compressions.
As breaths were about to be administered, Bennett suddenly revived.
When he asked about resuming his duties, Bennett recalled, “They said, ‘No, you’re going in the ambulance to the hospital.’” Mendez and Parker kept Bennett stable until the ambulance — which had been called away — got back to the stadium.
Stinton said the preparation and execution demonstrated by Parker and Mendez “means that they take their job seriously. They know that we’re going to do things the right way. That’s the part I’m most proud of, I guess, as an athletic director. … Obviously, you don’t ever want to see anything like that happen. In fact, that was the first time I’d seen somebody that wasn’t breathing. It was crazy.”
While the situation was still touch and go, Stinton said he wasn’t thinking about whether or not to finish the game. “At the time, the things that really kind of go through your mind are like, ‘OK, hopefully, they’re doing everything they can to save the guy.’ You don’t really have time to think of all that stuff.”
Soon after Bennett seemed stable, Stinton joined Cards head coach Matt Nally and Celina head coach Bill Elliott near midfield. “I asked Bill, ‘How do you want to proceed here?” Stinton said. “‘We need to ask the officials. Do you want to come back tomorrow to finish this?’ He said, ‘No. We’re good if they’re good with four officials. We want to go ahead and finish this game tonight.’”
With Nally in agreement, that’s what they did. Shortly after Bennett was wheeled from the field to a standing ovation, the teams quickly warmed-up and the final three minutes were played. All told, the game was delayed about 25 minutes.
The Cards went on to keep Celina out of the end zone and - after a 96-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brendon Lewis — won, 29-17. But the real winner this night was preparedness.
“It was definitely a team effort by everyone that was involved,” Mendez said last week at Melissa High School. “Usually, if a referee is down and they’re unresponsive, it’s not a good sign. You’re not thinking a fracture, you are thinking more cardiac. After [the AED and compressions] we were getting ready to deliver breaths and the patient came back to life. He gasped for air and opened his eyes. It’s a great feeling to see that he’s alive and breathing. He was asking, ‘What happened?’ … I’d like to wish Mr. Bennett a healthy and speedy recovery.”
Mendez is in his sixth year as a Licensed Athletic Trainer, having served in the Athens ISD for four years before arriving at Melissa in 2018. In March of that year, Mendez used an AED to revive a fan at an Athens High baseball game. “I’m very thankful for both positive outcomes,” he said. “I’m thankful for the AEDs we’ve had in these situations, for the preparation we‘ve had and for everybody that’s involved to make the team work together.”
UIL rules require all schools to have a least one AED on campus and also ensure that it’s “readily available during any UIL athletic contest on campus.” Mendez said that besides the one on Melissa’s sideline during football games, opposing teams often bring one as well. Schools are also required to conduct annual CPR/AED training for all coaches and staff.
Mendez noted that a high school sports event is one of safer places to have a cardiac emergency due to the availability of AEDs and trained medical staff.
“One of the things we’ve been doing this year is promoting athletic training and athletic training students,” Mendez said. “There’s a misconception that athletic training students are just ‘water boys’ or ‘water girls,’ but they go through the CPR/AED training as well.” Treating wounds, evaluating injuries and taping up ankles and wrists are just a few more of the duties performed by student trainers.
Originally from Detroit, Bennett started coaching high school sports in 1975. He moved to the Dallas area in 1982 and in recent years has worked for the Dallas Football Officials Association and the North Texas Basketball Officials Association. He retired as a regional sales executive for Hino Motor Sales, a Toyota company, in 2010.
Bennett and his wife have four grown daughters – and needless to say they’re all are thrilled with this incident’s outcome. He noted that three Melissa ISD representatives – Lance Rainey, Duke Sparks and Kenny Deel — had visited him on Friday and delivered a Melissa Cardinals helmet signed by the whole team. “We enjoyed each other’s company for a few minutes and prayed together,” Bennett said. “I just really appreciated them being here.”
Bennett said he would like to get back on the field as soon as possible, though Sharon is not so enthused about that. “The doctors checked everything. There was no heart damage. The only thing - they put a defibrillator in and I just have to make sure that it heals enough that the wires don’t come out – and I don’t reach above my head for about six weeks. … I don’t signal touchdowns from my position anyway.”
‘AEDs save lives’
Parker, an orthopedic surgeon with Texas Health Sports Medicine in Allen, is in his first year on the sidelines with the Melissa Cardinals. He also helps out with smaller outlying schools, such as Blue Ridge and Farmersville, and has for some time.
“There’s pretty much no time when a 60-something-year-old man being down on a football field is a good thing,” Parker said recently in his office, “so Jose and I sprinted out there. … Anytime there is someone unresponsive they’re going to need medical attention beyond what we can provide on the field. Even though we are very well-equipped to handle most injuries on the field, it’s not a hospital. Everyone is going to be best the faster they can get to a hospital.
“The things that have been shown to make the biggest difference in survival rates [for cardiac emergencies] are decreasing the time to shock, decreasing the time to CPR and decreasing the time to hospital.
“[The AED], probably more than anything else, is what saved him. I don’t know how many times I’ve done CPR – but that was about as smooth and easy as it’s ever gone. He gasped and he was back up.”
Parker said performing these life-saving measures on a field of play was a first for him. But, like Mendez, he has revived a fan at a baseball game.
Parker added that though he’s Melissa’s “team doctor,” he doesn’t work for Melissa ISD. “It’s strictly a volunteer thing. There’s nothing that’s contracted or codified. I’m not working for the district in any way and I try and always make that very clear to the kids and parents. … That way there’s never any suspicion that I’m trying to rush someone back too soon or that it benefits me in any way to do anything other than what’s best for the kids.”
While Mendez and Parker clearly knew what they were doing and executed protocols to a “T,” Parker emphasized that no one should hesitate to use an available AED. Instructions are clearly marked and voice prompts talk users through everything.
“There are two stickers that each have a picture of where they go on the person. You put them on and you press the one button on the machine and it takes care of everything else. Sometimes it doesn’t need to do anything, but if it can, that’s what’s going to save a life. So don’t think that that’s something that needs to be operated by a trained professional. If you think you can put a sticker on a person, you can save their live with that.
“If there’s one thing for people to take away from this, it’s AEDs save lives. Don’t be shy about using them.”
Clearly, preparation paid off this night at Cardinal Stadium. And perhaps all in attendance became more aware that the unexpected is to be expected.