- John Stewart
- Hometown (Last School)
- Lawrence, IN (North)
- October 15, 1980
Died during senior HS year. Did not attend UK.
COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — An 18-year-old standout basketball player for Lawrence North High School died Friday after collapsing during a Class 4A regional game that was being played at Columbus North High School.
John Stewart, a 7-foot senior who had already signed to play with Kentucky next year, collapsed during the third quarter of Friday’s game between No. 2 Lawrence North and No. 1 Bloomington South. He was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith learned of the news a half hour before the Wildcats’ first round NCAA game against New Mexico State in New Orleans, but did not tell his players prior to tipoff. Asked about the subject after the game, a shaken and misty-eyed Smith said, “It’s a great tragedy … I just can’t talk about it,” before tailing off.
Standing in the hospital, a bleary eyed Lawrence North coach Jack Keefer talked about Stewart.
“John was the neatest young man I’ve ever coached,” Keefer said. “This is probably the low point of my life.”
Stewart started the second half by scoring 10 straight points. With about two minutes to play in the third quarter, he asked to be taken out of the game, saying he was having trouble breathing.
Nat Hill, a senior from Bloomington South, said that moments after Stewart came out of the game, he fell backwards in his seat on the bench.
Trainers rushed around him and the fans couldn’t really tell what was going on, Hill said. Emergency personnel administered CPR on the court.
Stewart was put on a stretcher and taken to Columbus Regional Hospital. A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed that Stewart had died and said that an autopsy would be performed Saturday at the Indiana University Medical Center.
The cause of death will not be released until after the autopsy, the spokeswoman said.
When Stewart arrived at the hospital, doctors tried for 90 minutes to revive him.
At about 9:30 p.m., the entire Lawrence North basketball team, some still in sweats, others wearing letter jackets, came out of a back corridor of the hospital into the lobby where a crowd of fans and parents had gathered.
The team formed a human chain, each holding the hand of the person behind him, as they walked through the lobby to the team bus. Some were crying, others just had blank stares, having just said goodbye to their dead teammate.
“This is a tough thing to tell kids,” Keefer said. “They gotta wonder why. It’s the whole gamut of emotions. It’s totally devastating.”
Scott Shadiow, a senior at Lawrence North, stood with friends in the Columbus North parking lot after the game.
“You hear about this happening to guys in college and the pros but you just don’t think about it happening at a high school game,” Shadiow said. “He was our age, I just can’t believe something like this happened at our game.”
When news that Stewart was dead reached the fans, many broke down and fell to the ground sobbing.
Bryan Sirbu, a Lawrence North senior, stood in the parking lot and cried.
“This was one of the leaders of our school and we really needed him,” he said.
After Stewart collapsed, the teams went to their locker rooms. The game was halted for about 30 minutes.
Once Stewart was taken away, Lawrence North was given the option of suspending the game. An announcement was made over the loudspeaker that the players and coaches had voted to continue the game. Bloomington South went on to win in overtime, 55-50.
At Lawrence North in Indianapolis, a school crisis team was assembled Friday night. Duane Hodgin, assistant superintendent of Lawrence Township Schools, was at the school organizing counselors for the students.
“John was an outstanding young man,” he said. “The first and most important thing is I send my deepest sympathy to his family. It’s a terrible tragedy.
“John was a very positive role model since he’s come here to Lawrence North for all the kids. Just a very fine young man. He’ll be missed.”
Smith had said, around the time of Stewart’s signing, that he looked forward to Stewart contributing to the school’s program.
“He comes from a quality high school at Lawrence North, and with his size and strength we hope he can be a force in the post for us in the future,” Smith said.