FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Hopi High School football team had its best regular season ever, going 9-1 into a playoff game against a top-seeded team. Facing a complete shutdown, senior wide receiver Charles Youvella caught a pass and scored the team's only touchdown in the third quarter.
Well into the fourth quarter in Saturday's 60-6 loss to Arizona Lutheran Academy, Youvella fell hard on his head and collapsed a couple of plays later. He died Monday at the hospital of a traumatic brain injury, the Arizona Interscholastic Association said.
Youvella's death was a somber end to a football season in which the players had grown more enthusiastic about the game on the small northeastern Arizona reservation. It also comes at a time when head injuries in football are attracting attention at all levels of the sport. The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council two weeks ago called for a national system to track sports-related concussions and answer questions about youth concussions.
The report said 250,000 people age 19 and younger were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries in the country in 2009. That was an increase from 150,000 in 2001.
A community memorial is planned Wednesday evening at the high school auditorium in Keams Canyon. The high school has grief counselors on hand and will release students early, if needed, to attend funeral services later this week in Polacca.
Youvella died with this family at his side. His father, Wallace Youvella Jr., is the school's athletic director.
"We had just a beautiful season, best record in school history," said head football coach Steve Saban. "Down there in the state playoffs, it was just a great experience for the kids. And then the terrible tragedy. It was just like a bad dream."