South Putnam officials cancel Friday's game, choose to 'err on the side of safety'
Three days of health concern came to a head Friday afternoon when officials at South Putnam High School chose to cancel Friday evening's football game at Tri-West.
The concern arose from an unknown skin infection which has afflicted an undetermined number of Tri-West players. With lab results inconclusive on the exact nature of the infection, South Putnam principal Kieth Puckett said, "We erred on the side of safety.
The issue started during a freshman game between the two schools on Tuesday, when at least one Tri-West player was found to have some sort of skin infection. At that time, Puckett said one to four South Putnam freshmen made contact with the infection and came home with some sort of infection.
"They're going to be fine, but they did bring something home with them," Puckett said of the players.
Because of this, Tri-West has been investigating and cleaning its facilities since Tuesday.
"In investigating (the infection) on Tuesday, they told us that by Friday they would have the chance to swab it, culture it, grow it and tell it what it was," South Putnam athletic director Matt Griswold said. "However, it didn't get done. As of 3 o'clock today, they couldn't tell us what it was, and we couldn't find out how many of their players had it."
"What we wanted to do was make an informed decision, and to do that, we asked Tri-West exactly what the nature of the infection was and what was the extent of it -- was it contained and how many people had it?" Puckett said.
When lab tests came back inconclusive Friday morning, South officials found themselves in a bit of a jam.
"We couldn't get a handle on what it was, they could never tell us how many players had it," Puckett said. "The estimate was 20 to 60 players had it, and so we couldn't get a handle on what to do there, so it made our decision tougher."
The rash apparently affects its victims with open, oozing sores. While there is uncertainty about the infection's exact cause, some indications are that it may be a staph infection.
"Tentative diagnosis on seven of the varsity football players was a staff infection," said Dr. Robert Heavin of the Putnam County Health Department.
According to Heavin, up to 90 students at Tri-West may be infected, but it may not all be with the same infection.
"I'm not sure we have a definite diagnosis at this point," Heavin said. "There are apparently a number of students with a rash that may be different than these other seven. There are apparently up to 90 students, according the the Tri-West school nurse, with some form of rash. To have 90 students, it has to be contagious.
"The question is, are there two different rashes -- one being staph impetigo, and this other rash, which may or may not be part of this staff impetigo, or it may be something else."
It all adds up to a lot of questions, but few definitive answers.
Even tougher for South's administration is that its decision runs counter to Tri-West's desires as well as the state's recommendation.
"The State Board of Health stated that their position is if Tri-West could cover the lesions adequately, they could (play)," Heavin said. "My position was that if they were wrestlers with staff impetigo, they would be excluded whether you could cover it or not because it won't stay covered in a contact sport.
"The state said they could cover it and then redress it periodically," Heavin continued. "I guess I took issue with that because I didn't think it would stay covered."
Although the two schools could not reach an agreement on how best to handle the situation, Puckett says he does not fault Tri-West for its decision.
"Tri-West didn't do anything wrong," he said. "They spent thousands of dollars this week disinfecting their equipment, their locker room."
In the end, though, South Putnam wanted assurance their players would have no possible contact with the infection.
"What we asked them to do was to withhold any players that had any open sores that were oozing," Puckett said. "If you had an open sore that was oozing, we thought that was a player that needed to be on the sideline. They weren't able to comply with that, and I'm not saying that as a criticism to Tri-West."
With the decision of the state not on its side, South Putnam may be forced to forfeit Friday's game. This was not the major concern for Puckett or Griswold, though.
"We want to protect our community and our kids," Puckett said. "If someone brought a highly infectious virus home to someone who had a low immunity in their home, then we could see a lot of repercussions from that."
Puckett went on to say that playing could have led to the potential for infecting future opponents, a situation he did not want to put his own school in.
Dr. Heavin said he left the final decision of cancellation up to the school administrators, but he did advise them to "be conservative" in making their decision. Puckett appreciated the work of Heavin and several on his staff.
"We were very grateful for Dr. Heavin's advice. He worked very hard for us today. It was actually his suggestion to ask Tri-West to just sit kids with open lesions or kids who haven't been on antibiotics for three days," Puckett said. "He did a good job. Our trainer did a good job. Our athletic director did a good job. It was still a hard decision."
Puckett especially wished to express, though, that this was not a major disagreement between the schools. While they could not reach agreement on the issue, Tri-West was in an unenviable position, and South Putnam plans to continue its relationship with the Hendricks County school.
"We've had a long relationship with Tri-West and intend to have a long one in the future," Puckett said.