The agony of stomach cramps blocked the thrill of victory for more than a dozen young local football players and their families last week at a Las Vegas tournament.
Organizers estimate about 100 people -- including 17 of 19 members of Bakersfield's Far West Freedom Football's sophomore team -- became ill duringthe four-day western divisionof the National Youth Football Championships. Nevada public health officials confirmed that the wave of sickness was due to norovirus, an extremely contagious virus that causes diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.
About nine of the roughly 100 teams participating in the four-day tournament from across the western U.S. were directly impacted by the virus, said Justin Gates, vice president and competition director for Sports Network International, which runs the tournament. About 7,000 people attended the event.
"All the teams were affected because even if you didn't have the virus, you were worried about getting it," Gates said.
Ron White, executive director of Golden Empire Youth Tackle Football & Cheer, said that as of Monday afternoon, the Freedom team is the only local one he knew affected by the virus.
The virus hit the Freedom team so hard it had to forfeit its second game -- the tournament championship -- Saturday after the first quarter.
"We thought we were over the illness," said Sean Lozano, the team's head coach and Far West Freedom area representative. Team members began getting sick late Thanksgiving Day after their first game.
Lozano called Saturday's game after a couple team members became ill during it. A parent said one boy had to be pulled from the game because he was crying and throwing up. The coach said forfeiting was "very emotional" for the 10- and 11-year-old players, especially after the team had won it first game of the tournament against a team from El Paso, Texas.
"To go there, win their first game and then not even be able to come close to finishing their second game (the players) were in tears, but they felt so bad," said April Tooker, whose son and a stepson both play on the team and became sick on the trip.
Tooker, her son Mikey Bulley, 11, and her two stepsons -- Cameron Tooker, 13, and Dylan Tooker, 11 -- all became violently sick Friday during their stay in Vegas. Her husband, Jacob Tooker, fell ill Sunday.
"We barely could get out of bed. It was pretty terrible," April Tooker said.
Jennifer Sizemore, public information manager for the Southern Nevada Health District, said public health officials aren't sure what the source of the outbreak was. Attendees at the tournament stayed at a variety of hotels, including the Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, according to the health district.
The virus easily spreads from person to person. It can take up to 12 hours for someone to have symptoms after exposure, Sizemore said. The most serious complication from the illness is dehydration, particularly in children and the elderly, a news release from the district warned.
Most people recover from the virus on their own, but those who are sick should stay home from work or school for 72 hours after their symptoms end, according to the health district.
"Once (the virus) gets on surfaces and it gets out into an environment, it can be very hard to clean up afterward," Sizemore said, adding that the health district is working with the hotels affected by this outbreak.