High school soccer player suffers season-ending injury in brutal collision

Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 12:28 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY/Gray News) - A high school soccer player from South Dakota will need multiple surgeries for a season-ending injury he suffered when another player’s head collided with his.

Kelli and Kurt Aberson lived the ultimate nightmare of any sports parent on Thursday night. Their son, Dawson Aberson, was playing goalkeeper for Roosevelt High School’s boys soccer team when he jumped up to save a shot. The head of a Harrisburg High School player collided with the right side of Dawson’s face.

The incident left Dawson unconscious for 10 to 15 seconds. He laid in pain on the field for several minutes, and blood gushed from his eye. A nurse, a trainer and his coach, Victor Naranjo, hovered over him as the game stopped, and the crowd came to a bewildered hush.

Dawson was rushed to an acute care center then to Sanford Hospital’s emergency trauma center. His mother said all medical care was top notch, from the field to the ER.

“I was really scared,” Kelli Aberson told Dakota News Now on Monday. “Obviously, it could’ve been worse. Thankfully, he has a concussion, but there were no brain bleeds. I mean, we were very grateful for that.”

Dawson’s eye was, and still is, swollen shut. He suffered a massive cut above his eye, which needed eight stitches. There are multiple broken bones around his eye, and he will need multiple surgeries on his right zygomatic bone, which is the cheekbone.

Within the next week or so, as the swelling continues to subside, doctors will repair the zygomatic bone in one of two ways — through a pallet in his mouth or, if there’s not enough structural integrity there, through an area above the cheekbone, where they will place in a permanent plate. Kelli Aberson said she’s praying for the former.

It is unclear if Dawson will get his full vision back. That depends on if tiny muscles around the eye come back and allow him to move his eye from left-to-right and up-to-down. Kelli Aberson said there are a lot of prayers for that, as well.

Dawson’s mother said he has been “pretty quiet” since the incident and has been sleeping a lot, as recommended. Well wishes from his teammates, his classmates and the entire soccer community of Sioux Falls have been pouring in.

“There was a girl — it was so sweet last night,” Kelli Aberson said. “Someone messaged him, ‘Hey, I put a card in your mailbox for you.’ So, he went out there at 9 o’clock, and here’s this card from a friend. It was just — that kind of stuff has really been helping.”

Naranjo, who is in his first season as the Rough Riders’ coach, and his girlfriend visited Dawson on Sunday night.

“I think that lifted his spirits,” Kelli Aberson said. “He was able to visit with them and kind of talk through things, and they just said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like. We want you back on the bench with us, as soon as you feel up to it.’ (Victor is) an amazing coach, and all these boys are so blessed to have him as their head coach.”

Described by his mother as a sweet, caring and sensitive kid — “you could not ask for a better son” — Dawson has been “chasing the soccer ball around” since he was a little kid. Goalkeeper has always been his preferred position. His parents tried to get him to try other sports, but he stuck with soccer.

He earned the role of starting goalkeeper for Roosevelt at the start of his junior year last season. This is his first major injury, but it will end his season and possibly his soccer career.

Kelli Aberson admitted she had always worried about a major injury like this happening. Asked if the incident gives her second thoughts about Dawson staying with soccer and playing a position where collisions with the ball, with other humans and with steel posts are possible, she took a deep breath and said, “Oh, boy.”

“It’s almost a sigh of relief that he won’t be in that position again,” Kelli Aberson said. “I know that when you sign up to play sports, you assume some risk and you know that’s a possibility. I’m sad, but I’m kind of relieved that he won’t be in that position again.”

Roosevelt officials declined to address the incident to Dakota News Now and added the Sioux Falls School District will not comment, either. But another Roosevelt parent said the school is filing a report to a sports governing body regarding how the game was officiated.

Kelli Aberson would not address that matter specifically, saying she’s “not an expert in all the rules and regulations.” But she did say this:

“Definitely, you just want to make sure the refs are qualified and that they’re competent and they’re watching and trying to prevent things like this from happening,” she said.

Asked about the health of the Harrisburg player who collided with Dawson, Harrisburg’s activities director Jim Altenburg emailed back, “I’m not able to comment on student matters such as this.”

The good that has come out of this is the support from all kinds of people, Kelli Aberson said. Naranjo led a meeting of Riders soccer players and parents Sunday night, engineering an effort to uplift Dawson with encouragement and get the word out about supporting the family financially through the medical procedures to come.

Already, “#DAWSONSTRONG” is a social media movement.

“It’s amazing to have that kind of support,” Kelli Aberson said. “We’ve been in the Sioux Falls community ever since we got married, and to have that kind of support is absolutely incredible. We’ve tried to participate in those fundraisers through the years, and, boy, we’ve seen that return.”

Kelli Aberson said the family is asking for prayers from anyone who reads this — for the best possible recovery and life for Dawson. As devastating as it has been, she repeatedly expressed her gratefulness that Dawson is alive and has his major capacities, both brain and body.

“We have been blessed,” Kelli Aberson said. “He’s played since he was little, and he’s never even had stitches. He’s never had a broken bone, so we are very grateful he’d gotten to play a sport he’s loved all these years. But it was definitely scary. We just want him —”

She paused to gather her emotions.

“We just want him back like he was before.”