Natural causes are reportedly to blame for the death of a 15-year-old football player from Esko.
Jackson Pfister collapsed on the field Friday, Oct. 11, during the Esko football team’s game at Veterans Field in Aitkin. He was transported to Riverwood Healthcare Center, where he died shortly after.
According to a preliminary report from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office, Pfister died naturally due to a congenital heart defect.
Pfister was put in as the backup quarterback during the game against Aitkin Friday night as Esko had taken a commanding lead in the game. With 3:30 left in the game, it was fourth-and-2. Esko, which was up 41-14, decided to go for it but there was a fumble and Aitkin recovered it, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
The sports announcer from KKIN Radio out of Aitkin said during his broadcast Pfister had collapsed on the field after the play about 10 yards back from the action and then “got up and began to jog back to the sideline when then he just collapsed,” the News Tribune reported.
Both teams went back to their respective sidelines, an ambulance was called, Pfister was taken to the hospital and the game ended there with three minutes left on the clock.
"The whole community and staff and players and students, we're all just sad about the news and our hearts go out to the family and we’re all thinking of him," Esko Superintendent Aaron Fisher told the News Tribune. "Jackson was just a terrific young man and we all think very highly of him and we'll miss him greatly."
Aitkin Superintendent Dan Stifter gave his condolences to Pfister’s family and the whole Esko community Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the school district and the community,” he said in a phone interview. Stifter said the Aitkin football players and other students seemed to be doing well Monday but added there are grief counselors available if need be.
Brainerd Activities Director Charlie Campbell extended his condolences on behalf of the Brainerd community, too.
“It’s such a tragic thing,” Campbell said by phone Monday, noting Brainerd experienced a similar event, when 12-year-old Breck Liestman, a basketball player from Grand Rapids, collapsed during warmups at Forestview Middle School in 2013 and later died at the hospital.
The following year, 14-year-old Patrick Schoonover, a hockey player from Eastview, died from a heart defect after collapsing on the ice during a bantam tournament game at Essentia Health Sports Center ice arena in Brainerd.
“It affects everybody -- the spectators that were there that witnessed this, the players that were on the field. You don’t really understand how far-reaching something like this can be. It’s really a difficult, difficult situation,” Campbell said, adding Brainerd sends its thoughts and prayers to all those affected by Friday’s tragedy.
An outpouring of support from all over the state has come in on social media for the Eskomo football team.
“We are saddened beyond words hearing about this tragic loss. We stand united with the entire Northeast Minnesota football community in offering our support, thoughts and prayers to Jackson’s family, the Esko football family and the entire community of Esko,” Moose Lake-Willow River Rebel Football wrote in a tweet.
Staples-Motley Activities tweeted, “Cardinal Nation - Please keep the Family, Football team, and Community of Esko in your thoughts and prayers.”
Cardinal Nation- Please keep the Family, Football team, and Community of Esko in your thoughts and prayers.
Cardinal Nation- Please keep the Family, Football team, and Community of Esko in your thoughts and prayers.— Staples-Motley Activities (@SM_CARDS) October 12, 2019
Goodhue Boys Basketball tweeted, “Different sport, different corner of the state, but our support is with you @Eskomo_Football. Our thoughts [are] with you on the passing of Jackson.”
A guestbook entry from a poster identified as an Aitkin football player, left on Pfister’s death notice on the Nelson Funeral Care and Cremation Service website, stated the Aitkin football team will do “something special to remember Jackson and it will be on our helmets with his number and initials and he will be with us and always remembered by us.”
Crosby-Ironton football coach Bryan Syrstad reported his team, which will travel to Esko Wednesday, will wear helmets with decals in honor of Pfister along with blue wristbands.
A funeral for Pfister will be Sunday, according to the death notice. Visitation will begin at 1 p.m. until Mass at 4 p.m. at Queen Peace Catholic Church in Cloquet, followed by a luncheon in the church social hall.