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Lawrence Egerton
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Update: E-mail asked to omit sickle cell tests before N.C. A&T athlete’s death

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On August 19, 2010, Jospin “Andre” Milandu, a 20-year-old student at N.C. A&T in Greensboro, North Carolina, died after collapsing on the university track during a track team tryout.

Soon after his death I posed the question of whether this young man, a sophomore from Knightdale, N.C., had some medical condition that could have been revealed by a physical examination.

In October, the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office cited complications of sickle cell trait and physical exertion as the cause of his death.

Now disturbing news has surfaced that indicates that A&T coaches were asked to forgo sickle cell tests for students who were trying out for a team. Two days before Milandu’s death, A&T’s chief athletics trainer, Roland Lovelace, sent an e-mail to coaches, including track coach Roy Thompson, asking:

“Please do not send your student athletes to get a sickle cell test if they are participating in tryouts. Please make sure they are actually on the team before this is done. The reason for this is that the student health center is charging the athletic department for this test to be done.”

As it turns out, as of Aug. 1, 2010, the NCAA adopted a specific requirement that all students trying out for a sports team had to have a sickle cell trait test, or show proof of a previous test, or sign a waiver.

In Milandu’s case, none of these NCAA requirements had been fulfilled.

Milandu was among 29 students at the tryout without a physical, according to Chancellor Dr. Harold Martin Sr., who released that information Sept. 8.

That figure has since been disputed by coach Thompson, who ran the A&T program for 26 years. Thompson has said that nine students lacked physicals on file at the tryout.

Thompson, who supervised the tryout, retired Dec. 1.

A&T athletics director Wheeler Brown and NCAA compliance director Darryl Hills were fired in October. Though Martin mentioned Milandu’s death in a news conference announcing Brown’s firing, he hasn’t said why Brown was fired.

Milandu’s death is not the first death of an athlete with sickle-cell trait at A&T. Offensive lineman Chad Wiley, who carried the trait, died from complications in May 2008.

The initial test to identify the sickle cell trait can be performed on campus for $3 to $23 per athlete, according to Randy Eichner, an emeritus medical professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Eichner was part of the team that helped draft the NCAA testing policy.

The NCAA urged testing for sickle cell trait after the disorder contributed to the deaths of 10 athletes since 2000. Sickle cell trait is more common among African-Americans and occurs in about 8 percent of the U.S. African-American population. Most U.S. states test for sickle cell trait at birth, but most athletes with sickle cell trait don’t know they have it, according to an NCAA fact sheet.

The death of a young person – a young person in college with hopes for a bright future – is a terrible loss. If such a death takes place in the name of saving money, the tragedy is intensified many times over.