“The athletic trainer serves as the initial triage for injury. Coaches and administrators acting on their own don’t want to take on that liability.”
Athletic trainers also save their schools, athletes and their families a great deal of time and money each year.
Where there were more athletic trainers, a higher percentage of teens with serious injuries like concussions, fractures and internal injuries were sent to emergency rooms.
Distinct from personal trainers or fitness instructors, certified athletic trainers must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university to practice and receive specialized training in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of sports-related injury and illness among people of any age.
There are about 6,400 athletic trainers working in secondary schools across the United States, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), compared with some 18,400 public and private high schools sponsoring interscholastic sports, according to a review of state high school athletic association rolls by Scripps.
High school athletic trainers are more likely to work full time at larger, suburban schools, and they are less common in smaller, rural schools and inner-city schools, according to statistics provided by NATA, which represents about 85 percent of the profession nationwide.
“The bigger schools in our state and probably most states have pretty good access, but we did a survey a couple years ago that found only about 10 percent of our smallest 1A and 2A schools had an athletic trainer full time,” said Mike Carroll, athletic trainer for Stephenville High School in Stephenville, Texas.
Organizations as disparate as the American Medical Association and the North American Booster Club Association endorse having a certified trainer in high schools, but many administrators feel they can’t afford one.
Athletic trainers on school staff typically make about the same salaries as teachers — many do have classroom assignments — but usually receive a bonus for extra hours. The average salary nationally is about $42,400. About a third of high school athletic trainers work for clinics that contract with schools for their services, full or part time.
Most of the nearly 2 million injuries among U.S. high school athletes each year are not life-threatening, but half are serious enough to require medical attention and to keep the athlete off the field for at least one day. Having someone trained to know what requires ice and tape or a 911 call can make all the difference.
Scripps analyzed the most recent five years of data on injuries from sports typically played in high school among 14- to 18-year-olds reported by a national network of emergency rooms to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.