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June 12, 2018

All 14 public high schools in Tennessee’s Hamilton County will soon have athletic trainers, thanks to a recently approved contract with a local hospital system. This marks the culmination of a plan that was originally set in motion back in February.

The Times Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) reports that prior to this decision, the sports medicine coverage varied through the district. Some schools had secured their own athletic trainers, but others relied on coaches for student-athletes’ medical care.

“There are schools in our district who have [an athletic] trainer in their building every single day, from noon to [six] o’clock, and they start seeing kids, doing therapy, taping ankles,” Joe Wingate, a member of the Hamilton County school board, said. “But not every family and student had equal access to care.”

Although improving sports medicine services for the student-athletes is a positive move, there was a push to allow the schools that already had athletic training coverage to maintain those relationships.

“They have been helping us for seven years, they helped us when no one else would and they have been great I think loyalty means a lot,” Rhonda Thurman, a member of the Hamilton County school board, said. “I wanted the coaches to have who they felt they’ve had an established relationship [with].”

However, the three groups that had previously provided services to some schools submitted a bid for the county-wide contract that was turned down. Instead, the athletic trainers will be provided through Erlanger Health Systems. There was a $5 difference in cost when comparing the bids, with the group of three proposing $35 per student compared to Erlanger’s $30 cost per student. The district said the cost difference wasn’t the deciding factor for the proposal.

Erlanger will now need to hire more certified athletic trainers in order to cover the district’s 2,500 student-athletes. The coverage will include all football games and practices, along with most regular season home games for other sports, including lacrosse, soccer, softball, and baseball. The athletic trainers will also be on call for other varsity practices and provide injury evaluation and intervention.

Besides the enhanced focus on student-athlete safety, a significant benefit of having athletic trainers on duty will be allowing coaches to focus on their primary jobs.

“It makes the teacher and the coach much less effective in what we pay them to do when we ask them to be responsible for not just other duties, but for the health of their students,” Wingate said. “Coaches need to be focusing on how they’re developing and progressing players and teaching skills they need for their sport and for life.”

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