Vigil planned for Dunbar basketball player who collapsed at open gym

Dunbar coach remembers Star Ifeacho: "He touched so many different groups of people"

Paul Laurence Dunbar head basketball coach Scott Chalk spoke Wednesday about sophomore Star Ifeacho, who collapsed at an open-gym session and later died.
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Paul Laurence Dunbar head basketball coach Scott Chalk spoke Wednesday about sophomore Star Ifeacho, who collapsed at an open-gym session and later died.

A vigil has been scheduled for Paul Laurence Dunbar boys basketball player Star Ifeacho, a sophomore who died Wednesday.

Star, 15, died after collapsing during open gym at the school, according to the Fayette County coroner’s office. The cause of death was not immediately known. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday. Ifeacho was pronounced dead at 5:47 p.m. Wednesday at University of Kentucky Hospital.

A vigil is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the high school. That date was when the basketball team had planned to hold its annual recognition banquet.

Fayette school officials held a morning news conference.

Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk said Ifeacho had complained of light-headedness earlier Wednesday during a light workout at open gym. He went to the athletic trainer’s room and called his mom to pick him up. He collapsed in the presence of teammates and a trainer, who immediately began resuscitation efforts.

“The athletic trainer immediately provided emergency care, including CPR and the use of the AED (automated external defibrillator), while 911 was called,” Fayette schools Superintendent Manny Caulk said in a news release. “When paramedics arrived, they took over his care and transported him to the hospital.”

Ifeacho had a sports physical on record and was cleared to play for Dunbar’s 2016-17 season, Chalk said. He’d never experienced any similar problems before, Chalk said.

“It’s just a sad situation,” he said.

Dunbar Principal Betsy Rains said the day was a difficult one for Dunbar, “but it was inspiring to see our students and staff come together to support each other.”

She said Star Ifeacho “was a special member of the Dunbar community who touched the lives of everyone he met and will be deeply missed.”

Rains encouraged parents to talk to their children about their feelings regarding the death and to watch for changes in their behavior that could signal that they may need additional support

Dunbar associate principal Tony Blackman said the school held a moment of silence for Ifeacho and his family as the school day began Thursday. Arrangements were made for students to meet with grief counselors through next week. School district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said more than 200 students had met with counselors as of Thursday morning.

Chalk said Ifeacho “was a really upbeat, personable, smiley kind of person that people really responded to.”

“A lot of times when people pass, people say this, but he was extremely well-liked around school,” Chalk said. “He touched so many groups of people.”

District athletic director Robbie Sayre offered condolences to Ifeacho’s family and praised those who responded to the emergency.

“We talk about these things a lot, but when something as tragic as this happens, you know, everything went as well as it could have gone,” Sayre said.

By Thursday night, a campaign had surpassed its goal of $20,000 to help pay for Ifeacho’s funeral expenses. The effort was started by parents of Star’s Dunbar and AAU teammates, parent Carrie Boling said.

“He was a gentleman and he had the best manners,” Boling said. “He was such a hard worker; he was a great athlete. He was just a good kid.”

The Gofundme page said donations will go to Star’s mother, Peace Azuatalam, to cover funeral and burial expenses.

“No mother should ever have to bury her child, and if we can help alleviate some of the stress of the cost, we should,” the page said.

Condolences via Twitter poured in Wednesday and Thursday.

Senior teammate Taveion Hollingsworth wrote, “I seen so much potential in you ... i wanna let you know i love you boy your name is star for a reason shine bright on us ... #LLS”

Senior teammate Kaelen Whiteside wrote: “You just ran up 2 me this morning and gave me a big hug and said what up Kaelen boy! Damn bruh I’m gnna miss u, can’t believe u gone #LLS”

Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, released a statement Wednesday night.

“The absolute worst part of my job is getting a call like I received Wednesday night, with the sudden loss of this young man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family, the Paul Laurence Dunbar and Fayette County school community, and all of those who valiantly tried to save this young man. ... We recognize the fragile nature of life itself and wish peace on all who knew this fine young man during this difficult time.”

Ifeacho was a 6-foot-1 shooting guard. He averaged 6.8 points and 5.9 rebounds while playing in all 30 of Dunbar’s games in the 2016-17 season. He would have been Dunbar’s second-leading returning scorer for the 2017-18 season.

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears