Eagletown student death linked to enlarged heart

Thursday, February 3rd 2005, 10:42 am
By: News On 6

EAGLETOWN, Okla. (AP) _ A 15-year-old Oklahoma high school student who collapsed and died during a basketball game had an enlarged heart, medical officials said.

R.J. Pennon died Tuesday night of a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, said Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the state medical examiner.

Pennon collapsed while resting on the bench during a game against Fort Towson High School.

An enlarged heart is a condition that probably would not be detected during regular medical checkups or a sports physical, Rowland said. Physical exertion, he said, can cause the heart to go into an ``irregular rhythm, and sometimes it doesn't recover. And that's what appears happened here.''

The class bells were shut off Wednesday at Eagletown High School in far southeast Oklahoma. Students talked with counselors, clergy and one another most of the day.

As in most small towns, the 70 students at Eagletown High are close, said Jammie Bean, one of Pennon's teachers. Classes resumed Thursday, but school officials said absences would be excused.

``We do have to move on with our education,'' she said. ``We know that. But we have to know whether they're ready to move on.''

Family and friends met Wednesday night at the Eagletown Assembly of God church for a memorial service, said Mike Hopper, superintendent and high school principal. Funeral services will be at the school, Hopper said, but a date has not been set.

Pennon was described as an outgoing student who was known for teasing his classmates. He was a member of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America and was a good student. However, his passion was basketball.

Pennon played center and stood out on the court. The sophomore scored 32 points during a game last week.

Coach Justin Pierce said he's thankful Pennon's teammates have pulled together to help each other through the crisis, and the coach said he knows the teens will carry on with their season in honor of their friend.

``I feel like we kind of have to get back together and finish the race.''