September 15, 2014

Elyria
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Cause of team’s illness a mystery

ELYRIA — Health and school officials have no idea what made members of the Elyria High School football team sick hours before they were set to take the field two weeks ago, but school officials are not doing away with the tradition of a team dinner because of the incident.

The Elyria City Health District and the Ohio Department of Health have been unable to trace the source of a suspected food-borne illness that struck more than half of the team after concluding their investigation.

For now, the official cause will be listed as unknown.

The only thing that is known is that players and coaches had eaten together the night before at the team’s potluck dinner. Less than 24 hours later on Sept. 16, at least 49 of the 87 players who partook in the meal reportedly became sick.

Their symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. One player was seen in the emergency room at EMH Medical Center in Elyria for his symptoms. A football game scheduled for that night against Strongsville had to be played two days later as a result, and four players had to sit out.

Elyria High athletic director Darren Conley said team dinners have not been held since the incident, and while it is not a tradition solely reserved for the football teams, the other sporting teams have since decided to forgo such dinners until they receive more information from the health district.

“At this point, our thought is not to cancel the dinners, but if parents would like to feed the kids as a group they could donate money, and we would purchase the food from a place like Olive Garden or Chipotle,” he said. “Team dinners are a morale booster, but they are also good because they are carbohydrate-rich and, after a pre-game practice, such a meal builds energy back into the kids for the following day.”

Conley said all players have since been cleared to play.

The team dinner served two weeks ago consisted of spaghetti, a noodle casserole and salad.

Laboratory tests have ruled out salmonella and Norwalk virus.

The food could not be tested because there was none left over. A bag of salad submitted to the laboratory was not tested because illnesses associated with lettuce did not match the pattern of the outbreak, the Health Department said.

The Health Department said in a news release that it plans to hold food safety education seminars with parent and support groups of the athletic programs on a routine basis.

Amy Higgins, district spokeswoman, said the booster president agreed to work with Elyria Principal Tom Jama and the Elyria City Health District to get the food safety education.

The district is not looking at the illness as a reason to take away the team dinner. It is a long-standing tradition that will continue with precautions, she said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.