Athletes at Risk? Many schools failing to meet "gold standard" for athletic trainers

CHICAGO (WKRC) – OHSAA Commissioner Jerry Snodgrass is a problem solver.

Of all the titles that a commissioner play, “problem solver” is one of Snodgrass’ main jobs. He’s in charge of the athletes in Ohio’s 816 secondary schools.

“I’m a former science teacher,” Snodgrass said. “Number one, in order to solve a problem, you have to identify it first.”

And there’s one problem the most powerful man in Ohio high school sports can’t solve: the lack of athletic trainers.

“It’s not something that we can mandate. We’re a voluntary-member organization,” Snodgrass said. “We recommend, give guidelines, everything of the sort, but we cannot demand and require personnel to be hired by a school district.”

It’s a problem Tory Lindley has also identified. Lindley, a collegiate athletic trainer, serves as the president of the National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA). Its membership includes more than 44,000 athletic trainers in pro leagues, colleges and high schools across the country.

“NATA is an advocate for health care as the gold standard in every high school,” Lindley said.

Since 1994, the so-called “gold standard” set by the NATA has been one trainer per high school. This was after a study found only 35 percent of public high schools had athletic training services.

More than 10 years later, a current study shows that number improved to 38 percent of schools with a full-time athletic trainer.

“It was identified as a starting point to help increase awareness of what health care should look like in secondary schools,” Lindley said.

In more than a decade, schools nationally have still failed to meet the “standard.”

Increased awareness of the issues has helped slowly bridge the gap. That includes organizations like the NATA and administrators like Snodgrass doing their part in making sure events they can control are properly staffed by medical professionals.

The NATA created a website called “At Your Own Risk,” which shows the percentage of schools in every state that don’t have an athletic trainer.

In Ohio, it’s 19%.

In Kentucky? 34%.

In Indiana? 15%.

While professionals continue to search for an answer to meet the “gold standard,” the question remains: Who is in charge of a student athlete's health after the bell rings?

“One athletic trainer is not enough,” Lindley said. “But one athletic is the start for many, many different high schools that currently don’t have an athletic trainer.”

Miles in his shoes: An athletic trainer's day spans multiple sports (WKRC)

MONTGOMERY, Ohio (WKRC) – As the saying goes, there is no ‘I’ in team. But there are an ‘A’ and a ‘T’.

Even if the high school athletic trainer doesn’t make the team poster, Chris Bonnell is a part of 78 teams at Sycamore High School, from varsity co-ed bowling to freshman girl’s volleyball.

That’s because Bonnell is the school’s head athletic trainer. Together, he and his assistant athletic trainer, Rachel, oversee more than 800 athletes, and that’s not including members of the marching band, dance square or theatre.

It’s a normal Saturday and from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.; there’s not a second a sport isn’t going on for Sycamore athletics: starting with diving and ending with ice hockey.

“There’s always a benefit for us to be here,” Bonnell said, “so we can protect the athletes because the coaches, they’re into the game.

“They’re not probably looking a lot of times, watching him specifically because they have to watch all five guys, so us being here takes that pressure off of them and allows them to focus on coaching and lets us take concern of the athletes.”

Another major part of it is building a relationship with the athletes. They’re also a benefit to the coaches.

Greg Lazaroff is the freshman boys basketball head coach at Sycamore.

“They’re really a safety net for me,” Lazaroff said about athletic trainers. “When I have an athletic trainer that’s in the practice with me or sitting on the bench for a game, it’s a safety net because I know if there’s any sort of problem or an issue with an athlete in their health or their status, I feel good that I can just focus on the game operation and my trainer can help me with everything else as it relates to the player’s health and safety.”

Four months ago, David Randall, the head JV boys basketball coach, moved to Sycamore from a school in Vermont where only 27 percent of schools have a full-time athletic trainer, according to data from the Korey Stringer Institute.

“It was really hard,” Randall said. “As a coach, you have to be CPR-certified, concussion-tested, but you also had to be the first line of defense for any injury. Having a trainer is -- it just takes a big portion of your stress right off.”

Even on days when there aren’t any games, an athletic trainer’s job is far from done. They may attend practice, follow up on injuries, work to rehab an athlete or even update Emergency Action Plans.

The first and only time Bonnell sits all night is to send an email. Then he’s right back up to clean the training room.

On this night alone, he’ll walk five miles. That’s nothing compared to a Friday night in the fall, when he walks 13 miles.

So back to that old adage: There may be no ‘I’ in team, but there’s no safe team without an A.T.