LOUISVILLE — Hundreds of supporters gathered Sunday evening for an embattled Kentucky high school football coach, a day before he was scheduled to turn himself in to authorities after being indicted on a reckless homicide charge in connection with the death of a player.
Students, coaches, players, faculty members and well-wishers huddled in shivering temperatures on the football field at Pleasure Ridge Park High to show support for David Jason Stinson.
Stinson was indicted last Thursday, more than five months after 15-year-old Max Gilpin died from heat stroke three days after collapsing during a late summer practice.
The charge, thought to be among the first ever in which a coach was held criminally responsible for the death of a player, has sent shock waves through the tightly knit community in southern Louisville.
While Gilpin's parents search for answers on what happened on Aug. 20 when Max collapsed during a series of wind sprints, others say Stinson has been unfairly targeted.
"I don't think it's right," said Tyler Williams, a senior at the school of about 1,900. "People forget that Max's parents weren't the only one who lost him that day. We did too. Coach did too."
The crowd of between 250 to 300 spent more than an hour hailing Stinson as a man of integrity. Several people brought homemade signs while two students wore sweatshirts that read "We believe in our Mr. Incredible" on the front and "Pray for Coach Stinson" on the back.
School boosters hung a banner near the end zone with "The PRP family supports our coaches," while others wept quietly during the 90-minute service. Several PRP players attended the rally but declined to be interviewed.
Monica Stinson, Jason's wife, told the group she and her husband have been overwhelmed by the outpouring from the community, which included a vigil at their home on Saturday night when the coach said he will carry the burden of Max's death with him for the rest of his life.
Jason Stinson has been reassigned pending the outcome of the case. He is expected to be arraigned on Monday.
"The upcoming months are going to be the hardest," Monica Stinson said while fighting back tears. She later shared an embrace with Lois Gilpin, Max's stepmother.
Jeff Gilpin and Michele Crockett, Max's parents, say they're not out looking for justice, but want to find out what happened during that sweltering afternoon so future tragedies can be avoided.
"I have said from the beginning that my son's death was not going to be in vain," Crockett told the Courier-Journal of Louisville. "I will do everything I can to keep this from happening to another child."
The parents have jointly filed a lawsuit against the PRP coaching staff, accusing its members of negligence and "reckless disregard." The couple has been divorced since Max was 4.
Stinson's lawyer, Alex Dathorne, said Stinson is eager to prove his innocence.
Crockett said she hopes the indictment "sends a message" to coaches throughout the country who supervise youths playing football in hot temperatures.
"We are doing this to make sure it doesn't happen to another child," Crockett said in an interview Sunday on NBC's Today.
Jeff Gilpin attended the practice during which his son collapsed. He said that after reading some comments from bystanders, who said the coach was punishing players and denying water breaks, he began to question what happened.
After the Jefferson County grand jury's decision to indict Stinson, Gilpin "felt betrayed by the coach, and I felt sad for Max."