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Don’t scrimp on student safety

No one disputes that budget constraints have forced school districts into some hard choices.

But one area that should not be subject to penny-pinching is that of student safety. And the revelation by Capital News Service that only four of 24 Maryland public school districts have full-time athletic trainers is disturbing.

The news service found that only Anne Arundel, Caroline, Somerset and Worcester counties employed full-time athletic trainers in all high schools for this school year. Baltimore City Public Schools and the public school districts of Prince George’s, Calvert, Dorchester, Allegany and Washington counties do not have any athletic trainers in any high schools.

There are another 14 counties in Maryland that employ part-time athletic trainers in their public high schools or full-time trainers in some of the high schools.

Today’s high-intensity sports have made athletes in high school and middle school much more prone to injuries. In a roundtable discussion published recently by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, experts noted that these young athletes have a greater risk of incurring concussions, stress fractures, tendinitis and a host of other overuse and traumatic injuries.

Given the intense practice and competition schedules athletes are now expected to manage, there is great pressure not to sit out after an injury. And kids no longer play a variety of sports, hoping instead to excel in a single activity and perhaps land a college scholarship. Not cross-training increases the likelihood of an overuse injury, doctors say.

U.S. high school athletes account for 2 million injuries a year, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while there is not a substantial body of research on the subject, CNS reported, high schools with athletic trainers had more diagnosed concussions and fewer overall sports-related injuries, according to a 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics study of injury data for girls high school soccer and basketball.

Maryland school districts have greatly improved their sensitivity to concussions and the need for proper treatment before a student is allowed to return to practice and competition. But concussions, while getting a lot of understandable attention of late, are only one of the injuries athletes are experiencing.

It is unrealistic to expect coaches to be capable of spotting the symptoms or conditions that may be a precursor or evidence of an injury. Athletic trainers have a background that prepares them to respond to a wide range of injuries.

It’s not too much to ask of districts to find room in their budgets for athletic trainers. The issue was summed up well by Tom Hearn, the father of a Walt Whitman High School student who had a concussion during the 2012 football season. Hearn has called on Montgomery County to have full-time trainers in all county high schools, CNS reported.

“As the experts say, ‘If you can’t afford to have athletic trainers, you can’t afford to have an athletic program.”