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Protecting student athletes

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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01/29/2016 - Training a student athlete, such as a football player, in the old days, consisted of heading to the school's weight room and pumping iron to the coach's specifications. But not anymore. Today, athletic training is a specialized field, the result of a four-year college degree, national certification and state licensing. As both a move to prevent injuries and an effort to rehabilitate athletes, many local public and private schools have added certified athletic trainers to their athletic departments.

Like rare prized orchids, student athletes are treated very carefully, with many schools' fears of concussions, ACL tears, and other injuries now front and center. Athletic trainers are different from both coaches and physical therapists, educated and trained in injury and illness prevention and strategies which focus on optimizing a student athlete's quality of life, not only while they are in high school, but over the long term. Today, they are considered both health care professionals and part of the athletic department, a bridge that ties the two together to maximize a student's athleticism while protecting their minds and bodies. Hiring athletic trainers can also provide protection for a district against liability if the student is injured.

"About 37 percent of high schools have athletic trainers available to athletes for practices and competitions, and about 60 percent don't have anyone available if a student has an injury or problem," said Steve Broglio, professor of athletic training in the School of Kinesiology at University of Michigan, who has been certified as an athletic trainer for the last 15 years. "Some coaches, if we're lucky, are CPR-trained. But it's not their job. Their job is to coach their teams. Trainers work to prevent injuries, like to the ACL, heat stroke, lacerations, cervical spine injuries and concussions. It's a frontline defense against these injuries, especially in contact sports like football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and cheerleading."

In Oakland County, many schools either have an athletic trainer on staff, or have contracted with a health care system which provides a trainer directly to the school. The National Federation of High School Athletics (NFHS) chooses not to take a position on the matter. "We leave that in all of our 51 member state agencies," said Bob Colgate of NFHS. "Some schools may not have the money for a certified athletic trainer, but we ask if they have an emergency action plan. Most use a combination of certified athletic trainers and health professionals. We recommend that all schools have an emergency action plan that is going to get coaches, the administration and athletes involved."

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