A&T suppressed information about circumstances surrounding student’s death during track tryout

by Jordan Green

A runner trains at Belk Track at Aggie Stadium, where NC A&T University sophomore Jospin Milandu collapsed and died during a track tryout on Aug. 19. (photo by Jordan Green)

‘Ralph Malonda is grieving two deaths in his family. His father recently passed away, and his nephew, Jospin “Andre” Milandu, collapsed during a track tryout at Belk Track in the Aggie football stadium at NC A&T University in Greensboro on Aug. 19.

“My daddy lived to be 90 years old, so it was kind of expected,” Malonda said. “My nephew kind of caught me with my pants down. It blew me away. His mother is taking it very hard.”

The university has attributed the 20-year-old sophomore’s death to “complications of an elevated heart rate” but the family still awaits an autopsy. Malonda said his nephew ran track at Knightdale High School for three seasons, and no one in their family ever suspected that he might have health problems.

A&T administration has acknowledged three violations of university and NCAA policies: The university did not have physical examinations on file for Milandu or 28 other prospective student athletes who participated in the tryouts. There was no signed waiver on file for Milandu. And no trainer was on site during the tryout.

Why the prospective student-athletes had not received physicals and why the tryout was held without having a trainer on site remains unclear. An official release by the university on the day of Milandu’s death characterized the activity as “a supervised, voluntary track team open tryout.” By Aug. 31, the university had appended an additional descriptor: “unscheduled track tryout.”

Tightly controlled information releases regulated by the university’s legal counsel have gradually expanded the body of information available about the circumstances of Milandu’s death and how university policies were violated, without shedding much light on how those violations might be related the fatality or how an understanding of the incident might prevent future tragedies.

Asked how prospective student athletes who showed up at the tryout knew about it, the university responded in a prepared statement that “knowledge may have been obtained through means other than official notification.”

Nicole Pride, associate vice chancellor for university relations, responded on Sept. 10 to a set of questions submitted by YES! Weekly about how the policy violations occurred, whether administration is attempting to determine how the students learned about the tryouts and whether violations may have contributed to Milandu’s death with a statement that “there is no additional information at this time.”

Despite a reference to Milandu’s death as being caused by “complications of an elevated heart rate” in its first statement, the university responded to a question asking what efforts were being made to determine whether the tragedy was preventable by saying, “A&T is not in a position to determine the cause of death.”

Milandu’s uncle, Ralph Malonda, said the university has stopped returning his calls.

Track and Field Head Coach Roy W. Thompson Jr. declined to comment for this story, citing legal advice, and a call placed to Athletics Director Wheeler Brown was not returned.

One hint about the reason for the university’s circumspection is found in the subject heading of an Aug. 27 e-mail from General Counsel Charles Waldrup: “Student — Confidential Attorney Client Written Communication and Work Product in Anticipation of Litigation.”

The e-mail was a forward from Pride and included a draft statement on Milandu’s death in which the associate vice chancellor said she had “attempted to cover the seven key elements in crisis communications,” including candor, explanation, declaration, contrition,

consultation, commitment and restitution.

The two-page draft statement specified which policies were violated and provided a following description of how the tragedy unfolded, including details about the athletic activity, the coaches who were present and the immediate response to the emergency:

“Since it was raining that day, the potential walk-ons warmed up under the bleachers on the A&T side of the track and began their dynamic stretching, while still under the bleachers. Jospin and the other students participated in approximately 20-25 minutes of dynamic warm-ups. The potential walk-on team members were then told to do four laps of the track by jogging around the curved part of the track and sprinting the straight part of the track. Jospin appeared to be handling the exercise well near the end of the second lap.

“Shortly thereafter, Assistant Coach Daniels observed that Jospin appeared to suffering from a cramp and ‘gradually went down to the track’ on his knees. Attempts were made to help him stand, but he lost his balance. Jospin was responsive at that time and coherent; however, he complained of heaviness/pain in his legs. He was helped outside the lane and given something to drink. He appeared weak, but okay. He then slumped over, yet had a faint pulse. Attempts were then made by Head Coach Roy Thompson to get a trainer to assist Jospin. However, the team trainer was unavailable, working the volleyball game here on campus. After failed attempts to secure a trainer, a female student called 911. Another student offered to perform rescue breathing, but the 911 operator told him to start performing chest compressions instead, as the 911 operator gave him instructions. This student was CPR certified and continued working on Jospin until EMS arrived.

Jospin was then transported to Moses H. Cone Hospital where he could not be revived.”

The draft was submitted to Waldrup at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 27.

An e-mail from Pride to Waldrup the following Monday indicates that she held some reservations about changes the general counsel wanted to make to the statement.

“I understand this statement has to be brief,” Pride wrote. “However, I’m very concerned about the degree to which it appears as if we’re not being forthright.”

Pride outlined some questions Waldrup could expect to receive from reporters as a result of the circumscribed statement.

“Did Jospin have a waiver and physical?

Yes or no… you didn’t answer that?” “If this tryout wasn’t on the schedule, how did the students know about it? One student we interviewed said there were over 20 students there.”

“What policies were violated specifically?

Yours and NCAA?” “It took you an entire week to come up with nothing. What’s different with your leadership now that wasn’t going on before? What are you doing differently except asking your [athletic director] to do his job?” “Are you still having a track season?

When is tryouts? Same coach? Assistant coach? AD?” Pride also flagged a particular sentence in one of the draft statements: “The finding revealed that the policy violations surrounding this incident are primarily limited to the track program.”

The associate chancellor told the general counsel that university officials should expect to be asked: “How do you know that these violations that you didn’t [SIC] are limited to track and not your other sports? What have you done to verify this?” The official statement that went out to members of the press on Aug. 31 was shortened to one page. It did not outline the policy violations, did not specify whether Milandu and the other students had physicals on file or whether a trainer had been on site, and did not include the two paragraphs describing the tragedy itself.

A week later, the university felt compelled to release more information. This time, the statement was three pages and attributed to Chancellor Harold Martin. It outlined the three specific violations. It clarified that under normal processes trainers would have been scheduled and in place, proof of physical exams would have been obtained and signed release waivers would have been on file.

The chancellor’s opening statement suggests the tragedy has placed the university in an awkward spot.

“Upon my arrival at North Carolina A&T University, I committed to building a relationship with you based on trust, transparency and accountability,” he said. “Sometimes it is difficult to fulfill this commitment to transparency due to time constraints, legal implications and personnel issues.”