THE ISSUE: Are athletic trainers needed at local high schools?

OUR OPINION: It’s definitely worth evaluating the possibility.

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After the tragic death of a local high school athlete during football practice, some area coaches are broaching the idea of a need for athletic trainers in schools. Athletic trainers in the bay area, where many schools already have the trainers, say it’s a modern necessity.

No one is suggesting the death of 16-year-old Antonio Hicks could have been prevented by an athletic trainer on the field. But adding another level of safety for high school athletes should be paramount.

School districts in surrounding Marion, Sumter and Levy counties employee athletic trainers to oversee practices and games. Citrus and Hernando County do not.

Levy County has approximately 6,200 students in grades Pre-K through 12 and employs athletic trainers for its combined middle and high schools.

Citrus County has approximately 16,000 students and provides no athletic trainers for school sports.

“We just thought it was better for our athletes,” said Kalee Wade, Levy County’s risk manager. “We’re very pleased with the program.”

Citrus County School District Assistant Superintendent and Athletic Director Jonny Bishop said the potential employment of athletic trainers will likely be discussed during their staffing process, which takes place in January of each year. It’s not the first time he’s brought up the idea.

In 2008, Bishop prepared a school board workshop presentation on the benefits of athletic trainers and requested the board’s support to move forward. Unfortunately, the proposal received lukewarm response from the board and went nowhere.

A 2019 study, published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found over a course of five years that concussion rates have decreased during football practices but have risen during games. That’s an unsettling statistic.

Rob Coutu, the head athletic trainer at West Port High School, said, “What we do in Marion County is we let the coaches coach and the athletic trainer is laser focused on injury prevention, planning and practicing daily for emergencies, and setting the culture for how we protect the athletes while allowing them to excel on the field.

"We have protocols to follow for every injury, and when an athlete has a concussion, they enter the protocol with strict return to play guidelines and further testing to determine the best and safest way for the athlete to return.”

It’s now time for the school board to seriously look into the benefits of having athletic trainers on staff. Trainers are the best way to prevent injuries in high school sports and to treat them when they occur.