New coach in place, last student out of hospital after Fairbanks high school football swim incident

A new acting head coach is in place and a third student has been released from the hospital after a “swimming accident” during a Fairbanks high school football activity injured multiple students, according to a school district statement Wednesday.

West Valley High School students were participating in a team-building exercise at the University of Alaska Fairbanks pool during an “optional preseason activity” hosted by football coaching staff Friday night, according to Sharice Walker, public relations director at Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. Three students became submerged in the water and were “pulled from the pool and transported via ambulance to the hospital,” Walker said.

Two people who said they witnessed the incident told television station KTVF that football head coach Roy Hessner knew some of the students didn’t know how to swim when they were told to participate in an exercise that required they wear a sweater in the pool, take it off and put it back on in the deep end. Witnesses say students were treading water in the deep end of the pool when “at least one of them” sank to the bottom, according to a UAF spokeswoman.

Two students were released from the hospital over the weekend and the third was released Tuesday, the school district said in a statement. Walker has previously said the three students were “interested in trying out for football.”

“Risk management for the school district is performing an investigation and is in the process of scheduling participant interviews," the school district said.

Norm Davis was named acting head coach Wednesday. The district said Davis “is a teacher at University Park Elementary and has helped coach football and wrestling at West Valley for many years.”

It is unclear whether Hessner, a retired Marine who was named football head coach in December, remains on the coaching staff or employed at West Valley High.


Walker said Wednesday afternoon that the school district had no additional information available to share at this time.

West Valley High’s football team began its season Wednesday as regularly scheduled, according to the school district, and administrators have assembled a coaching staff for the start of the season. Preseason activities had been suspended for the team.

UAF police said Wednesday that the incident remains under investigation.

Jeff Parrott

Jeff Parrott is a former general assignment reporter for Anchorage Daily News. He graduated with a master's degree in 2019 from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is a former U.S. Army officer.