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One-Third of High Schools Operating Without Athletic Trainer

Brock Fritz

High schools across the United States aren’t hiring enough athletic trainers, according to a study released Thursday.

Athletic Trainer Services in the Secondary School Setting: The Athletic Training and Locations Services Project (ATLAS) was published in the Journal of Athletic Training, as well as the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s scientific publication, and suggests that high schools aren’t prioritizing student-athlete safety.

“Providing appropriate care for student athletes comes down to priorities. The safety of student athletes must be the top priority for schools with athletic programs, not just in rhetoric, but in allocation of resources to put the appropriate personnel in place,” said NATA President Tory Lindley, MA, ATC. “Schools need to see athletic trainers are an essential requirement to having an athletics program – similar to how they see the coach. While coaches oversee play on the field, athletic trainers are responsible for injury prevention and addressing the physical and mental effects of playing the game.”

The study found that 34% of United States high schools have no access to athletic trainers, including 45% of private schools. The study defined athletic training services as schools receiving services in any form by a licensed or certified trainer. It also cited several barriers to hiring trainers, including budget constraints, school size, remote location and lack of awareness of a trainers' role.

A National Athletic Trainers’ Association press release spelled out the key statistics found in the study, highlighted by 13,473 of the 20,272 United States high schools having no access to athletic trainer services. Of the 13,473 schools with access trainers, 7,119 (53%) had full-time services. Some of the schools may have changed since the data was collected from September 2015 through April 2018.

On a deeper level, 37% of the 16,076 public schools had full-time trainers, 32% had part-time access and 31% had no access. Of the 4,196 private schools, 27% had full-time access, 28% part-time access and 45% no access.

At least 10% of secondary schools in each state had no access to athletic trainers. Ninety percent of New Jersey’s 446 high schools had access to trainers, including 80% with full-time access and 10% with no access. Conversely, 86% of Alaska’s 157 schools had access, while only one school had full-time access. Oklahoma has the least coverage in the contiguous US, with 68% of its 497 schools having no access, 17% having part-time access and 15% having full-time access.

“Despite an increase in the number of legal cases, court-ordered overhauling of health and safety policies and awarding of large settlements, school districts, school education boards, state legislators and state athletic associations continue to take a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to addressing safety concerns,” said the study's lead author, Robert Huggins, PhD, LAT, ATC.

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