Guest Column

The Dividends of Investing in Athletic Trainers

by Darrell G. Floyd

A student athlete collapses on the playing field in 100-plus degree weather and is unresponsive.

Would you rather have an untrained person as the first responder while the student’s parents look on anxiously from the sidelines or a certified athletic trainer immediately attending to the athlete?

It’s a no-brainer. Yet far too few high schools have an athletic trainer on hand to provide appropriate, timely medical care to their student athletes.

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association estimates only 42 percent of high schools nationwide have access to a certified athletic trainer. And in my home state of Texas, that number is only slightly higher, 57 percent. The value of having at least one certified athletic trainer on staff is priceless in terms of safety for student athletes.

A Paramount Need
Certified athletic trainers are unique healthcare professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. They also help ensure the prevention of chronic injuries from overuse. Athletic trainers often are confused with personal trainers. A personal trainer is an individual who focuses solely on fitness and conditioning. The difference is vast.

Certified athletic trainers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in athletic training (yet more than 70 percent also hold a master’s degree) and maintain their certification through the Board of Certification, a 20-year-old organization independent of the athletic trainers’ association.

As a superintendent, I know the safety and security of our students is paramount. Ask any parent and he or she will tell you that should be our first priority, no matter what the activity. Before becoming a superintendent, I was a high school principal and before that a teacher/coach. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in regard to student injuries and the consequences that arise for parents as a result.

During my years as a coach, principal and now as superintendent, I always have been relieved to have an athletic trainer on my school’s athletic and health care teams. But not all coaches and administrators have that as an option. In Texas, where we take our interscholastic sports seriously, access to a certified athletic trainer is dependent upon the size of the school district. In 2004-2005, 100 percent of 5A and 4A high schools (the two largest classifications) had at least one athletic trainer. Yet only 10 percent of 2A schools (190 to 389 students) and 2 percent of 1A schools (fewer than 190 students) had athletic trainers on board.

While the low numbers generally correspond to smaller budgets, there is still no substitute for the important role athletic trainers play in a district. These positions can be funded if it becomes a priority of the school district.

When I was principal of a high school of 850 students near Fort Worth, we were able to add a full-time certified athletic trainer for the first time, even though the budget was tight. That was because the administration and school board understood how necessary it was to the well-being of our students. As a result, that high school became the beneficiary of having a person on staff to save a life, to reduce the onset of injury and to ensure the appropriate care of all student athletes.

Widespread Expertise
Now, as a member of the University Interscholastic League’s Legislative Council in Texas, I represent many 4A school districts. In this role, I have been privileged to hear first-hand from experts in their field about key athletic training issues such as required pole-vaulting helmets, prevention of heat-related illnesses, fluid replacement, attentive care of concussions, sudden cardiac arrest and asthma in athletes, steroid testing, first aid, along with proper conditioning and rehabilitation. This knowledge has cemented even more my belief that every high school desperately needs at least one athletic trainer.

In Stephenville, Texas, we are fortunate to have two athletic trainers. Our head athletic trainer, Mike Carroll, serves on the board of the Texas State Athletic Trainers’ Association and recently assumed the vice presidency of the Southwest Athletic Trainers’ Association. Due to the high participation of our junior high and high school students in athletics, we also employ a second certified athletic trainer, Meredith Swayne. They both do an outstanding job of taking excellent care of all Stephenville student athletes.

As a new school year begins, I encourage my colleagues to recognize your existing athletic trainers for the important role they play at your high schools. If you don’t have a certified athletic trainer, I urge you to hire one to ensure the peace of mind of parents and to attend to the care and safety of your student athletes. Their value is … priceless.

Darrell Floyd is superintendent of Stephenville Independent School District in Stephenville, Texas. E-mail: darrell.floyd@sville.us