Over the weekend, high school athletes from all over the Carolinas crossed something important off their sports prep checklists: complete health exams — for free.
At the 15th annual Heart of a Champion Day, Atrium Health hosted more than 1,000 students from schools between North and South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium.
The day-long event provided free general sports screenings, musculoskeletal checks and vision examinations for student-athletes in an attempt to prevent injuries.
Unlike typical athletic screenings, Heart of a Champion Day also included electrocardiograms –a noninvasive screening of the heart to check for different heart conditions — to detect genetic heart abnormalities that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest, a rare but catastrophic event, during competition.
Why it matters: In March 2023, a 17-year-old high school cheerleader from Sanford, N.C. went into cardiac arrest at a competition, and in February 2023, an eighth grader went into cardiac arrest at a basketball game in South Carolina.
Carolina Panthers players, including current wide receiver Terrance Marshall, Jr. and former wide receiver Kenneth Moore, Jr., also came out to support the event and interact with students.
“Having this opportunity to see where you are [health-wise] is important,” Moore said at the event. He also mentioned that knowing one’s health status is important, especially for athletes of color, noting undiagnosed high blood pressure as a “silent killer” in the Black community.
Since its beginning in 2008, the program has screened thousands of students at more than 90 schools across the Carolinas for a variety of reasons, like not having a primary care physician or lacking insurance and even missed appointments or deadline crunches.
Some students told QCity Metro they attended because “it was free,” like D’omarion Smalls, a rising senior and football player at Cox Mill High School in Concord, N.C.
While others, like Jordan Tolbert, had a more timely reason to attend the free screening.
“I was late on my physical,” Tolbert said. “I wouldn’t have been able to play.”
Tolbert, a rising freshman at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, S.C., said being able to cheer is an essential part of her first year in high school. She went on to say that she would have felt “left out” of part of the high school experience if unable to be part of the sport.
Thanks to the screening, teens like Tolbert and Smalls will continue their student-athlete careers this year.