Ja'Quayvin Smalls family files suit

Ja'Quayvin Smalls

The family of a former Wando High School football player filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Western Carolina University, according to reports.

Ja'Quayvin Smalls of Mount Pleasant, a defensive back and 2007 graduate of Wando, died after participating in his first voluntary workout at Western Carolina on July 8, 2009. The autopsy report, released in November 2009, said complications from an enlarged heart were the cause of death, and listed sickle cell trait and exertion as contributing factors.

The lawsuit, filed in January in Jackson County, N.C., seeks 'a sum in excess of $10,000' and alleges that 'information about sickle cell trait and exertional sickling was available to all ... defendants, who chose to ignore it.'

Named as defendants from Western Carolina are athletic director Chip Smith, football coach Dennis Wagner, defensive coordinator Matt Pawlowski, head athletic trainer Steven Hornbarger, assistant athletic trainer Brandon King and former strength coach Brad Ohrt.

A response filed on behalf of the defendants acknowledges that Smalls and his mother, LaSonia Smalls, disclosed that Smalls had sickle cell trait on a questionnaire they filled out in December 2008, but denies other allegations.

The suit, which lists Smalls' father, Henry Smalls, as the plaintiff, alleges that the defendants 'breached their duty' to Smalls by failing to 'develop policies and procedures to safely train and condition athletes with sickle cell trait.'

Henry Smalls could not be reached for comment Monday.

Ja'Quayvin Smalls, who was 5-10 and 185 pounds, was a North-South

All-Star and All-Lowcountry player at Wando High School, and transferred to Western Carolina from Georgia Military College. He was 20 years old when he died.

Sickle cell trait is found in 1 in 12 African-Americans, and occurs when a person has one copy of the gene for sickle cell, but does not have sickle cell disease, which is a genetic blood disorder. Exertional sickling can occur when a person with sickle cell trait exercises intently, leading to low blood oxygen levels, increased muscle heat and dehydration.

The case had been set to go to trial this month before a change in defense counsel. The new mediation and discovery deadline is Dec. 16, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.