A dispute among local football team doctors and coaches caused one of the doctors to be ejected from Saturday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section championship game and could end up as a matter for Tracy Unified School District administrators to resolve.
Dr. Robert Williams was ejected midway through the third quarter of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game at Sacramento State University’s Hornet Stadium after he walked onto the field and insisted on pulling a Tracy player who went down with a possible injury in the first half, even though two other team doctors cleared the player to return to the game.
Williams said on Tuesday that he would not talk about the matter, but he went on to say that he had no regrets about his actions.
“What I did was right,” he said. “You never let a kid play who is at risk of serious injury.”
Williams added that he planned to send a formal letter to TUSD Superintendent Brian Stephens, who was on the sideline at Saturday’s game. Stephens said that as of Wednesday afternoon, nobody had contacted him to follow up on the matter.
Williams is one of two physicians, along with Dr. Ian Pulliam, who serve as team doctors for the Tracy, West and Kimball high school football teams. Either Williams or Pulliam is assigned to each local home game, as is one of three local chiropractors who specialize in sports medicine. Both Williams and Pulliam were at Saturday’s game, as was Dr. Tim Brown, a chiropractor who works with the Tracy High team.
Near the end of the second quarter, Joshua Clarke, a senior defensive back and wide receiver, went down with an apparent rib injury while defending against Folsom quarterback Jake Browning’s 23-yard touchdown pass to senior Cole Thompson. Clarke remained down as officials called an injury timeout. He then walked off the field unassisted after Williams’ and Pulliam’s on-field examination.
Pulliam and Brown both determined that Clarke could return to the game, but Williams was adamant that Clarke should sit out.
Clarke, who started playing with the Tracy High basketball team this week, said on Tuesday that right after the fall, he felt pain in his ribs just under his left arm but he was ready to get back in the game by the time the third quarter started.
“Two of them (the doctors) said I was fine. The other doctor said I shouldn’t go on the field. I just grabbed a helmet and went out there.”
His father, Ken Clarke, said that by Sunday, his son had some lingering soreness, but nothing that would indicate a serious injury.
“I think it was a bruised rib or something. If it was cracked, he would still be in pain,” he said. “I understand (Williams’) concern, because Josh has been hurt before playing football, and if he’s hurt to the point where he can’t go back in, he won’t go back in.”
When Clarke returned to the Tracy offense midway through the third quarter, Williams walked onto the field, insisting that he did not give approval for Clarke to play. After a brief argument involving coaches and officials, the referee ejected Williams and Sacramento State University security escorted him out of the stadium.
Tracy coach Matt Shrout said he was comfortable with Pulliam’s and Brown’s position.
“That was between Josh and the doctors. When he was deemed fit to go back in, that’s when the doctors released him,” Shrout said.
He added that he felt Williams’ presence was unnecessary and that he supported Pulliam and Brown because they had been a regular presence at Tracy’s home games. He said it was also clear that Williams wasn’t going to back down.
“It’s unfortunate. I didn’t want it to get there, but (Williams) wouldn’t let it go,” Shrout said.
Pulliam confirmed that he looked at Clarke and said, in response to coaches’ questions, that Clarke didn’t appear to be injured aside from soreness.
He said that the mistake was not to try to reach consensus among all three team doctors.
“We’ve been working together for 16 years and always confer on this. In this case, that didn’t happen,” he said. “We worked it out separately and contradicted each other.”
“Obviously, we feel horrible about what happened and immediately the next morning went to Dr. Williams.”
Moving forward, he said that in addition to working toward consensus about a player’s ability to return to the field, the doctors would have to agree beforehand which of them would have the last word on possible injuries.
Brown agreed that the matter was handled poorly.
“We just all three separately evaluated him and rendered our opinions to the coaches separately. It should have been done all together,” Brown said.