Concerns raised over West Virginia high school athletic trainer staffing

West Virginia
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February 07 2021 06:00 pm

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – Are West Virginia’s student-athletes as safe as they should be? Some might say no because in the entire state there are approximately 30 high school athletic trainers looking after thousands of athletes.

Dr. Zach Garrett says that’s just for football, where certified athletic trainers are mandated by the state. The president-elect of the West Virginia Athletic Trainers Association, and the Athletic Training Director at Marshall University says the small number of qualified health officials gets even smaller when other sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, and wrestling come into play.

“The majority of schools don’t have what we would consider the standard of care appropriate on the sidelines,” Dr. Garrett said. “There’s a lot of places that don’t even have a spine board.”

Dr. Garrett says the standard of care for student-athletes, including having a staffed athletic trainer, needs to be a priority in every school in the state.

“You get to know the athlete or your patient, so when something’s not right, you’re going to know that, you’re going to understand it,” Dr. Garrett said.

Dr. Garrett says parents should demand to know whether or not their child’s high school has an emergency action plan or EAP. This plans-of-action are mandatory for high schools and are required to be reported to the county board of education as well as the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

Huntington High School Head Athletic Trainer Justin Ross has been working with student-athletes for more than a decade.

“It’s kind of funny, I call myself the EAP,” Ross said. “We take care of every situation that we possibly can. We try to think outside the box. We meet with our coaches and we meet with the administration and those individuals a lot so we can coordinate to make sure we’re all on the same page when bad things happen.”

Ross says trainers are the pulse of the school’s sports teams. He says because they work with student-athletes every day, they know when a simple limp may be part of a more serious injury.

“We can evaluate and take care of these injuries and get them to the proper places they need to go,” Ross said.

Dr. Garrett says there are schools that haven’t provided an EAP and says it’s difficult for every high school to have an athletic trainer because of lack of money. Ross agrees.

“It’s a funding and money issue that will factor into some smaller school systems and different schools across the state,” Ross said.

Ross and Dr. Garrett both say having an athletic trainer and an EAP provides accountability so that student-athletes make it home safely to their parents.

Dr. Suzanne Konz, associate professor and biomechanic program director at Marshall University says participation in high school football for the last five years has declined approximately 7 %. However, boys soccer and wrestling over the same time period is up approximately 10 %, but high school football is the only sport required to have a certified athletic trainer at practices and games.

There are no mandates for other sports, including girls sports and middle school sports.

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