A college wrestler died from a heat stroke after coaches denied the 20-year-old’s repeated pleas for water as a disciplinary measure, during a particular intensive school practice in 84-degree temperatures, a police report has revealed.
The wrestler, University of Cumberland sophomore Grant Brace, died in August 2020, during a practice at the Kentucky school’s wrestling facility that saw coaches force students to engage in repeated sprints up a 200-foot ‘Punishment Hill.’
During the exercise, coaches reportedly told the athletes to ‘throw their water bottles on the fence and not touch them.’
Eventually, during the hot summer day, Brace began to fall behind his comrades, and begged coaching staff for water – a request cops say they denied due to the student’s ‘poor performance.’
Two hours after the practice, Brace was found by students and staff on the ground near the gym, collapsed, clutching the grass near a pool of his own vomit.
He died of exertional heatstroke, cops said – a particularly preventable condition that does not occur without warning signs.
The staffers who denied Brace the water, first year-coach Jordan Countryman and second-year assistant coach Jake Sinkovics, have since been sued by the deceased’s family, who allege their gross negligence led to their son’s death.
University of Cumberland sophomore Grant Brace died in August 2020 during a practice at the Kentucky school that saw coaches force students to engage in repeated sprints up a 200-foot ‘Punishment Hill,’ a recently released police report has revealed
Brace, seen here at left in this undated photo, told staff that he couldn’t see or stand before his death, which has been mired in mystery for the past two years
‘Guys, I need water. Get me some water,’ Brace reportedly urged his teammates during an outdoor portion of the practice August 31 – the first day of wrestling conditioning for the students.
Brace’s requests would eventually become frantic, cops from the Williamsburg Police Department wrote – but were still denied, even as he began speaking gibberish and convulsing, witnesses who spoke to the department said.
Brace – whom teammates said had dreams of being a champion – also told staff that he couldn’t see or stand before his death, which has been mired in mystery for the past two years.
Brace’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school in August, as well as school officials and those related to the wrestling program.
The team’s head wrestling coach at the time, Jordan Countryman, was one of several staffers named as a defendant in the suit.
He resigned as the school’s head wrestling coach in April 2021, just over six months after the incident. He is currently a high school wrestling coach at Saraland City Schools in Mobile County, Alabama.
Countryman was named Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year in 2020. He has yet to publicly comment on the lawsuit.
A cause of death was not provided in the lawsuit, filed by father Kyle Brace and mother Jacqueline Brace. The case is currently ongoing.
The staffers who denied Brace the water, first year-coach Jordan Countryman (at left) and second-year assistant coach Jake Sinkovics (at right), have since been sued by the deceased’s family, who allege their gross negligence led to their son’s death
‘Guys, I need water. Get me some water,’ Brace reportedly urged his teammates during an outdoor portion of the practice August 31 – the first day of wrestling conditioning for the students. Here Brace is pictured with father Kyle Brace and mother Jacqueline Brace in 2019. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school and its wrestling program in August
However, for the past seven months, local outlet WKRC-TV has dug through city records and interviewed witnesses present during the practice to find out exactly why Grant collapsed.
Days ago, the outlet managed to obtain a police report into the incident – which coupled with witness accounts, shed new light on the circumstances of his death.
According to the report, the afternoon practice began indoors, with students engaging in more than an hour of weight-lifting and hand-fighting drills.
Then, coaches moved the practice outside at around 3 pm, when temperatures in the small Southern city peaked at roughly 84 degrees, to the track surrounding the university’s football stadium.
More than 40 of Brace’s teammates interviewed by the station told cops they were allowed to take a water bottle out to the track, but that coaching staff soon told them to ‘throw their water bottles on the fence and not touch them.’
After finishing at the track, the team ran from the stadium along nearby Second Street for about a mile, cops and witnesses said, to a grass hill right outside a building that houses the team’s wrestling facility.
Known around the wrestling program as ‘Punishment Hill,’ the slope is approximately 200 feet long and on a 40 percent incline, police who measured the mound wrote.
Known around the wrestling program as ‘Punishment Hill,’ the slope Brace was forced to sprint on (pictured) is approximately 200 feet long and on a 40 percent incline, police who measured the mound wrote
The hill was yards away from the school’s wrestling facility, located inside the the Luecker Building (pictured). After the exercise, once back inside the building, coaches continued to deny the student athlete water due to his ‘poor performance’ on the hill
Brace, pictured here with his mother months before his death, was hailed by teammates and coaches as an upbeat ‘pleaser’ who ‘was on the path of having a happy and productive life’
Teammates told they again were told by coaches Countryman and Sinkovics to leave their water bottles on the hill and ‘not touch them.’
The team proceeded to run sprints up the hill, police said. Police said the athletes were forced to engage in the exercise as punishment because a teammate did not complete a fundraising requirement set by the coaches.
For the first seven sprints, officers were told, Brace – who grew up on wrestling and weightlifting and regularly posted videos on social media of him lifting enormous amounts of weight – did well, keeping up with his teammates.
However, Brace soon started to show signs of fatigue, police said in their report, and sat and laid down.
The coaches quickly became irritated with Brace due to his failure to keep up with his teammates, and ‘told him to leave the hill and clean out his locker,’ police wrote in the report.
Grant then left the hill and entered the locker room, cops said, but returned minutes later telling the coaches that he wanted to prove himself to them and the rest of the team, and rejoined the exercise.
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird wrote that at that point, coaches – and even fellow teammates – had been hurling insults and jokes at a haggard Brace.
Brace – who grew up on wrestling and weightlifting and regularly posted videos on social media of him lifting enormous amounts of weight – begged with the coaches for aid but was repeatedly denied, police said in the just-surface report
‘Some witnesses describe a lot of verbal abuse by the coaches and even teammates as Grant continued to attempt sprints up the hill,’ the chief wrote in just surfaced report.
At that point, multiple witnesses told the department that Grant, struggling to stand and clutching the branch of a nearby tree, pleaded with coaches as he struggled with symptoms experts said aligned with those of heat stroke.
Bird wrote: ‘Witnesses describe a short team meeting on the hill after the sprints when Grant was holding on a small tree limb, swaying back and forth, saying, “I can’t stand.”‘
‘Help me. Help me,’ Brace reportedly repeated as concerned teammates looked on.
Witnesses also told officers two other teammates also began vomiting and showing signs of distress. Those team members, however, were attended to by a trainer, cops said.
The report did not indicate whether the trainer also attended to Brace.
As the exercise came to a close, the team left the hill and went to the wrestling room, which is about 100 yards from the hill, to cool down and shower.
During this time, witnesses told police that Brace had laid on a wrestling mat in the room and began to beg for water, with his behavior becoming increasingly concerning.
Bird wrote: ‘At one point witnesses state Brace opened a cooler full of ice that was provided by the trainer and began to immerse himself in the ice and began splashing ice on his body.’
Brace is pictured with the rest of the Cumberland Men’s Wrestling team after winning a regional championship in 2019. More than 40 of Brace’s teammates team spoke to a local news outlet of the events at the August practice that led to Brace’s death
Witnesses told the department that Brace began to resume begging for water, asking his teammates for help as well.
‘Guys, I need water. Get me some water,’ the student was quoted as saying.
At this point, Brace stated his pupils were twitching and that he could not see, police said – two telltale symptoms of the condition that would eventually take his life.
What is heatstroke? How can you tell if someone has it?
Heatstroke occurs when the body is no longer able to cool down — commonly due to prolonged exposure to or exercising in hot weather.
As a result sufferers can see their body temperature rocket to 106F (41C) — above the normal 98F (37C) — in just ten to 15 minutes.
Symptoms of the condition include:
- Confusion, altered mental state or slurred speech;
- Loss of consciousness (coma);
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating;
- Very high body temperature.
Doctors recommend cooling people as quickly as possible to avoid permanent disability or death that the condition can trigger.
This includes moving them into the shade, removing outer clothing and placing cold wet flannels on the skin.
Police write that a concerned teammate tried to step in and give Brace some water, but was rebuffed by the coaching staff, who reportedly asserted Brace’s poor performance during the sprints were not enough to warrant a drink.
‘One witness attempted to wrap ice in a towel and place it on Brace when he was stopped by the coach because Brace didn’t perform well on the hill.’
Police said Brace then began to speak nonsensically, sputtering gibberish before charging a fellow teammate and tackling him to the ground.
‘At that point, witnesses describe Brace running out of the gym,’ Bird wrote.
Security footage from the school building reviewed by the officers reportedly showed Brace then run out of the gym.
The report reads: ‘He ran to a nearby building and attempted to pull open a locked door. When he could not get the door open, he kicked the door (and) ran off out the view of the camera.’
Officers wrote that at the time ‘Grant appeared to be in panic’ – or as officers labeled it in the report, a textbook ‘fight or flight’ response.
Grant would not be seen again for roughly two hours, cops said – until he was discovered by teammates and coaching staff collapsed just outside of the school building, facedown in the grass. Cops said he appeared to have vomited.
Someone from the school then called 911, but by then, officers said, it was too late, with Brace later succumbing to his heat stroke.
‘Heatstroke is where your core temperature elevates above 104 degrees,’ national heat expert Bud Cooper told the station.
‘Usually with heatstroke, individuals have lost consciousness. And again you can pick them out. You will start to see them. They will lose their ability to continue an activity. They’ll be lethargic. They’ll have an inability to communicate.’
Brace’s family filed the po lice report, as well as the wrongful death lawsuit, against the school, claiming coaches failed to protect the student’s health and safety.
The suit accuses wrestling coaches of creating a toxic culture in their wrestling program.
A third witness has since filed civil litigation against the university, alleging he suffered a brain injury as a result of a concussion he suffered during a practice on ‘Punishment Hill.’
The report reads: ‘During the interview, investigators were made aware of a similar incident involving one of the assistant coaches who was running a training camp in Indiana when an 8th grader died during practice. We have spoken with that school and confirmed the death, just waiting on details.’
Police are still investigating the deadly incident, and the Braces’ case is still ongoing.
Countryman and Sinkovics are accused of gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.