Seeing Beyond l Schools Should Have Sports Trainers | Columnists
The sudden death of a 16-year-old Citrus High School football player this week caused a shockwave of grief in our community. My heart goes out to this family and to the friends and neighbors who have surrounded and supported this young man.
In the course of the investigation and further details, we as a community will inevitably look for preventive solutions so that something like this never happens again. But even before a final report is published, there is a clear step in our school district to protect the health and safety of our students.
Rent a sports trainer.
The fact that our schools do not have high school athletic coaches is a failure of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). Many states mandate that if a school competes in sports, it must have physical trainers on site at every sporting event and on campus during training. However, Florida is one that doesn’t.
Given the extreme heat in Florida and the sheer number of athletes participating in high school sports in the state, this political exclusion is outrageous.
Perhaps the problem lies in the job title. The athletic coach position sounds like extravagance, like these high school athletes are doing personal training to help them meet their fitness goals.
But that’s not what sports coaches do.
An athletic trainer on a high school campus exists as an advocate for the health and safety of student athletes. Your number one priority is making sure that every athlete receives the medical care they need in the event of an injury and the therapy they need to prevent injury. In addition, the sports coaches on the high school campus are responsible for maintaining a safe training environment for all athletes. This includes making sure athletes get the correct number of water breaks while exercising, determining the level of activity athletes can participate in in extreme heat, and being in control of things like the lightning log.
Sports coaches are there to assess the individual athlete and ensure that their health and safety are paramount in everything that happens during a sporting event.
This means that it is not up to an unmedical coach to determine whether a student is ready to return to the game after an injury or is injured badly enough to be withdrawn from the competition. In the case of high school sport, athletic coaches have the authority to determine if and when an athlete is healthy enough to play again.
Sports coaches take the pressure off coaches and parents to make those decisions in the heat of competition. Athletic trainers are medical professionals who work with injured athletes and who are trained and qualified to rehabilitate them on site. They are also responsible for referring athletes to doctors if their injuries are beyond what can be treated in school. Additionally, an athletic trainer is basically always an on campus first responder who specializes in sports injuries.
Case in point: a while back I was at a softball game in another state that employed an athletic coach. The catcher had hit two pretty hard balls in the head. The athlete did not complain, but the trainer realized that two consecutive hard blows needed to be dealt with and did a quick assessment. He was able to get all of her health records and her baseline concussion test and send her to the emergency room after being assessed. She didn’t feel the effects of anything until halfway through the emergency room, but it was confirmed that she definitely had a concussion. Knowing this athlete, she would never have complained to the coach about it. She would have tried to make it through because she loves to play. And that could have been catastrophic.
Trainers have limited training when it comes to student health and safety, but that is not a trainer’s focus. We need medically trained staff who get to know every athlete and who are solely responsible for advocating for them with coaches and parents.
It’s impossible to know if the presence of an on-site sports coach would have changed the outcome of this latest tragedy that befell Citrus High School. But there is definitely not a good argument why you shouldn’t have been there.
The FHSAA may not consider it essential to have exercise coaches on our high school campuses, but in this case, citrus schools should break that norm. We need one in every high school and middle school that has competitive sporting events.
Sporting events are a big part of our school culture, but only safe and sustainable if we have dedicated people who are responsible for the health and safety of our athletes. We have to hire sports coaches.
Cortney Stewart graduated from Lecanto High School in 2003. She has a BA in Political Science and International Affairs, a Masters in Intercultural Studies and is currently working on her PhD. in international conflict management. Most recently, she taught and trained students, teachers, and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq, for two years. Email her at [email protected].