Advocates Call for Athletic Trainers in Md. High Schools


COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Feb. 22, 2014)—As many students prepare to head home on the bus at 2 p.m. each weekday, Jasmine Hemmings’ job as an athletic trainer at Centennial High School in Ellicott City is just getting started.

Hemmings spends the next hour or so evaluating students who may have suffered an injury the day before, taping or bracing students with lingering injuries and rehabbing students who have injuries that can be worked on through exercise.

Such is the scene on weekday afternoons in high schools across Howard County. The county has a part-time athletic trainer like Hemmings in every school.

Several other counties in Maryland, including Anne Arundel, Charles and Carroll counties also have athletic trainers at every high school.

“It’s very important to have a qualified, heath care provider that is directly available if there’s any emergency,” Hemmings said. “Coaches know signs and symptoms, but they don’t know how to do a full evaluation.”

However, several Maryland counties, like Prince George’s County, do not provide trainers at any high school. Others, like Montgomery County, only have trainers in some of their high schools.

Beginning with the current 2013-14 school year, Montgomery contracted with local medical vendors to conduct baseline concussion testing of all of the district’s student-athletes. The vendors also began a pilot program that put part-time athletic trainers in 13 of Montgomery’s 25 public high schools.

The medical vendors are currently funding these trainers. In Howard and other counties, the trainers are funded by the school system’s budget.

But it is unclear if trainers will return to Montgomery County high schools next year.

The county’s recommended budget for the 2015 fiscal year did not include any funding for athletic trainers. If the medical vendors are not willing to donate for another school year, those 13 high schools could go back to not having any trainers.

William Beattie, Montgomery County’s director of athletics, said that they are working on “alternative strategies” to try to maintain or expand the program, and will sit down and speak with the vendors about it.

“We’re going to see how they believe the program is going this year, and invite ideas that they might have about continuing the program going forward,” Beattie said.

Tom Hearn, whose son suffered a concussion two years ago playing JV football at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda without a trainer on the sideline, said he was shocked that the 2014-15 budget did not include funds for trainers.

“I was really expecting to see the funding in the budget this year,” said Hearn, who has pushed for an athletic trainer at each of the county’s high schools. “I’m hopeful but I also have become more realistic and sober that it’s not going to happen overnight and not going to happen unless there's a vigilance about bringing awareness.”

The county is putting itself in a dangerous position if they end up without athletic trainers, said Greg Penczek, president of the Maryland Athletic Trainers’ Association and the associate athletic trainer at Towson University.

“Montgomery County says ‘We’re ok’ because nothing has happened yet,” Penczek said.

“Once that hits the legal books and something comes up, you don’t want to get to where a kid dies and everyone says ‘Where was the athletic trainer?’”

The pilot program has been “very, very successful,” Beattie said.

“The trainers have been very responsive, and proven to be very valuable,” he said. “We appreciate that the vendors have stepped forward and volunteered trainers in this capacity.”

In Howard County, Hemmings says their program has had great success and that the county was “integral” to making that happen.

“They realized that there was a need for student athletes to have someone there for them in case they get hurt, so they really pushed at the board to get us good budgets so we can have high quality materials and a good place to work,” she said. “They’ve been 100 percent supportive.”

All 12 of Howard County’s high schools were recently honored with the Safe Sports School Award, a national award given out by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association to schools that meet a set of stringent criteria proving they have “taken crucial steps to keep their athletes free from injuries.”

They are the first school system in Maryland to have every high school receive the award.

As Howard County’s efforts to provide trainers in every high school gets more publicity, Penczek said it could put pressure on counties without athletic trainers to follow suit.

“I do think within the next three to six years you’ll start to see more not just part time, but full time personnel,” he said. “I think it’s important for that county to get recognized.”

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