Quest begun after hoops standout’s death brings defibrillators to Philadelphia rec centers

Danny Rumph’s death could lead to saved lives on the Philadelphia hoops courts where he played the game he loved.

Spurred by a foundation named after the late Parkway High basketball star, the Philadelphia Fire Department is donating defibrillators to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to ensure that all 150 of its recreation centers will have the heatbeat-restoring device.

The soon-to-be-announced partnership will cap a seven-year quest by the Daniel Eric Rumph II Foundation, named after an athlete who died of heart problems while playing at a rec center.

The Fire Department is donating the devicies in response to the foundation’s efforts.

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“I’m really excited about it,” said Viola “Candy” Owens, Rumph’s mother. “We came a long way.”

Death after a pickup game

On May 8, 2005, Rumph, known by most as “Danny,” unexpectedly collapsed after a pick-up game inside what was then Mallery Recreation Center in Mt. Airy. The 21-year-old had headed to the courts at the intersection of Johnson and Morton streets following a Mother’s Day dinner.

As the star point guard for the University of Western Kentucky lay on the hardwood floors of his “second home,”  the city’s Emergency Medical Service took longer than usual to arrive.

Rumph would be declared dead at Albert Einstein Medical Center an hour after he collapsed.

It was later determined that Rumph’s fatal cardiac arrest was the result of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease that compromises the function of muscle tissue in the heart responsible for keeping the vital organ pumping efficiently. 

Warning signs are few, and people with the condition often don’t know it  Rumph didn’t. He was one of a number of young basketball players to die from the disease.

The only way to diagnose cardiomyopathy beforehand is through a series of heart scans, including an echocardiogram. Rumph never had one.

“The only thing that maybe could have saved his life,” said Owens, “was a defibrillator.”

A mission to prevent future tragedies

After winning over city officials, who Owens said were concerned about potential liabilities, the Rumph Foundation was given the go-ahead to raise funds for defibrillators which rec-center employees would be trained to use.

To date, 13 devices – which cost approximately $2,700 each – have been handed over to the city and installed at centers, including Mallery, which was renamed in Rumph’s memory after his death.

It’s unclear when the rest of the defibrillators will be installed. City officials confirmed the partnership with the Philadelphia Fire Department, but were loath to reveal many details about it at this time.

“We have a significant number of facilities that have them and our goal is to outfit all of our facilities,” said Susan Slawson, the city Parks and Recreation Department’s First Deputy Commissioner of Recreation & Programs.

Owens said she hopes every center will have a defibrillator installed by year’s end. Though it won’t bring her son back, it’ll make his passing a bit less painful to bear.

“It doesn’t make it easier, but it helps because if I can save someone else’s parent from what I had to go through, that means so much,” she said.

The Rumph Classic

In the meantime, the Rumph Foundation has begun turning its attention towards raising funds for cardiomyopathy screenings at recreation centers.

That goal will sit at the center of the 7th Annual Rumph Classic “Save The Next Bright Star” Basketball Tournament, which runs from tonight through Monday at two sites, the rec center now named for Rumph and Arcadia University.

“Instead of being reactive when something happens to a young kid, we thought we’d do something more on the front end of it, where we can actually catch some young kid who has this disease so they can get treatment,” said Michael Morak, who competed with Rumph at Mallery and helps organize the tournament.

The eight-team, double elimination event features a talent pool chock-full of professional players who have competed or currently compete overseas or in the NBA. A number of them faced Rumph while playing on high-profile city squads or in college. Among them are city-bred pros such as Hakeem Warrick (power forward for the New Orleans Hornets and former Sixer Marreese Speights (now with the Memphis Grizzlies).

The five-day tournament kicks off tonight at the Rumph Center.

Three days of the tournament will be held at Arcadia University in Glenside, Montgomery County. The head and assistant coach there were both friends of Rumph.

Preventative push under way

Last week, the Rumph Foundation, in partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, hosted a screening at 25th and Diamond streets in North Philadelphia at Hank Gathers Recreation Center.

Gathers, another Philadelphia hoops standout, also died of cardiomyopathy in 1990 while playing in a game for for Loyola Marymount University.

Getting the defibrillators is “a good feeling,” said Morak, who also sits on the foundation’s board. “But I think from our side, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done to create awareness.”

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