November 18, 2019 • Sports Medicine

Editorial: Full-time athletic trainers can no longer be optional

athletic trainers
David Koch, an embedded athletic trainer with the U.S. Air Force 59th Medical Wing’s VIPER Clinic, works with a trainee in a program examining the effectiveness of embedding athletic trainers into military physical training. Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Michael Ellis

Any time a program claims it can’t afford to hire a full-time athletic trainer, the response is often that it can’t afford not to hire one. If we’re being honest, it’s a fair retort.

“No product, device or fly-by-night training is going to make up for the expertise that a certified sports medicine professional brings.”

No single individual holds as much value to an athletic program. That’s not to diminish the importance of coaches, administrators or strength professionals, but an athletic trainer literally makes the difference between life and death in emergency situations. Yet, despite the critical role they play, only 52% of high school coaches say they have access to a full-time athletic trainer, according to our annual Coaches Survey.

Among the districts without a full-time athletic trainer is Polk County Public Schools in central Florida. In June, 14-year-old Hezekiah Walters collapsed during a summer football conditioning program at Middleton High School. According to reports, Walters began to vomit and seizure before he lost consciousness and became unresponsive. Coaches tried CPR, and paramedics later attempted to revive him without success. He died a few hours later.

A full medical report has not been released, but Walters’s symptoms are consistent with heat stroke. The tragedy was enough for at least one Florida athletic trainer to step up and call for full-time medical professionals at every high school in Polk County.

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“Coaches have to take some classes every year that add up to a couple hours of education. This is to prepare them to help out in this situation,” wrote Lloyd Knudson, an athletic trainer at Winter Haven High School in Florida. “The key word is help.

“We may never know if Hezekiah’s death could have been avoided if an athletic trainer was present. But we do know that his chances of living would have been much greater, if there was. And I’m sure Hezekiah’s family, friends and loved ones would have had some sort of closure, knowing that every possible measure was taken to help him live.”

Knudson started a petition urging the district to make changes, but it has not yet reached the goal of 500 signatures. The district did make one commitment: It would purchase cold water immersion tubs and require them at all outdoor athletics.

But there’s no substitute for a full-time athletic trainer. No product, device or fly-by-night training is going to make up for the expertise that a certified sports medicine professional brings to an athletic program. Schools say they’re committed to protecting their athletes, and they preach safety as their No. 1 priority, but talk is cheap. If they’re not committed to putting an athletic trainer on campus, they’re failing their students.

Kevin Hoffman is the editorial director of Coach & Athletic Director. You can reach him at [email protected].

One thought on “Editorial: Full-time athletic trainers can no longer be optional”

  1. I agree that I would like to do anything to help keep my kids safe while they practice football and their other sports, like by having a full-time athletic trainer at school. I wonder if it would also be good to find a pediatric doctor who can perform regular physicals for my son until one is in place at his school. He is currently on the basketball team, but he wants to try out for the football team soon.

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