Jan 29, 2015
High Tops and Helping Hands

By Kenny Berkowitz

As a member of the Rainier Beach (Wash.) High School Vikings boys’ basketball team that won the state title in 1998, Jamal Crawford vowed that if he ever succeeded, he’d give back to his school. Since then, as a shooting guard on the New York Knicks, he’s underwritten a $100,000 project to renovate the school gymnasium and created a hometown basketball camp for kids from six to 16 years old. Now, with a benefit called “High Tops and Helping Hands,” he’s championed a new cause: trying to provide a full-time certified athletic trainer for each of Seattle’s 10 public high schools.

“When I was at Rainier Beach, we didn’t have an athletic trainer, and I wish we had,” says Crawford. “To be able to provide that service for kids in Seattle means a great deal to me because I’ve seen the kind of difference athletic trainers can make, working just for the satisfaction of keeping people healthy.”

Over the course of his career, Crawford has had three major injuries. He tore a meniscus in 2001, had a concussion in 2003, and fractured an ankle earlier this year. In each case, he credits athletic trainers with helping him return to the court, so when Rainier Beach Athletic Director Dan Jurdy first suggested the benefit to the Jamal Crawford Foundation, Crawford quickly agreed, offering to host the event at his home in nearby Maple Valley.

“It was a natural fit,” says Matthew Wade, the foundation’s executive director. “We were looking to ally with an organization that would help us fulfill our mission of providing support for inner-city children. Providing athletic trainers in the public schools is important for the safety of our kids, and we saw this as a way to rally the community around this issue.”

While Wade searched for a community group to help organize the event, Jurdy was approached by Rosemary Agostini, MD, Medical Director of the High School ATC Outreach Program at Virginia Mason Medical Center. Agostini had a similar question: How could she enlist the help of Rainier Beach’s pro alumni in a fundraiser for athletic training hours? Jurdy’s response led her to Wade and then to Rayburn Lewis, MD, who works as Executive Director of the Medicine Service Group at Swedish Medical Center and covers football games for Franklin High School. For 20 years, Agostini and Lewis have shared the sidelines, and though their institutions compete with each other, they decided High Tops and Helping Hands would be a good opportunity to create a three-way collaboration between Swedish, Virginia Mason, and Children’s Hospital, all of which provide care for Seattle’s high school athletes.

Under the school system’s current agreement, Virginia Mason provides each high school with about 20 athletic training hours per week, dividing coverage between four full-time and two-part athletic trainers. In the long-term, Agostini and Lewis would like to double that coverage through a combination of benefits like High Tops and Helping Hands and efforts by the three hospitals to create a high school career technical education program in athletic training, with part-time athletic training instructors whose salaries would be funded by the state. Until they launch that program, the money raised by High Tops and Helping Hands will go directly to fund athletic training coverage for the current year.

“By anticipating, preventing, and rehabilitating injuries, we’re able to keep their athletes in better shape for the entire season and keep athletes participating in a healthy way,” says Agostini. “Too many kids drop out of school because they don’t see any relevance in their classes and don’t have a strong connection with an adult. Sports can play an important role in helping these kids stay in school, and providing regular educational contact with an athletic trainer can give students the support and information they need to think about their future.”

“For the school district, we talk about risk avoidance and cost,” says Lewis. “We know that education leads to injury prevention, which is sometimes even more important than injury rehabilitation. And though we haven’t done an audit, you can bet the cost of providing athletic trainers is offset by long-term savings in premiums and liability. That’s the financial piece.”

Agostini did most of the legwork to organize the event, networking with school administrators, physicians, and athletic trainers around the city to drum up support. Drawing about 150 people, mostly from Seattle’s educational and medical communities, High Tops and Helping Hands included an auction of memorabilia donated by the Mariners, Seahawks, Sonics, and Storm. There was also a “Ducky Derby” down a stream that runs through Crawford’s property, a golf chip-shot contest, and a chance to shoot baskets with Crawford and Portland Trail Blazer second-year guard Brandon Roy, who graduated from Seattle’s Garfield High School.

Tickets for the event cost $175 per person. Rubber ducks, which were sold for $100 apiece, could be purchased through the foundation and the New York Knicks Web site. The winner of the derby received game tickets and airfare to see Crawford play at either Key Arena or Madison Square Garden, and everyone participating in the derby was given an autographed duck and a thank you letter from Crawford. Organizers expect the benefit, which netted close to $20,000, to become an annual event. And though it may appear daunting to enlist the help of professional athletes, Agostini is convinced this kind of benefit can be duplicated around the country. “Rather than asking professional athletes for money, the key is to give them the opportunity to use their time and skills for a cause that’s meaningful to them,” she says. “Kids who come out of difficult situations to reach the pros know what it’s like to have a full-time athletic trainer taking care of them and they remember when they didn’t have that kind of help. As a result, they understand deeply why it’s important to provide those services for the next generation.”

“To organize a benefit like this takes a huge amount of passion,” she adds. “It takes a lot of time, work, commitment, and personal relationships to make it successful. And it starts by demonstrating passion, which is which is why Jamal and Matthew were willing to work with Rayburn and myself.”

Kenny Berkowitz in an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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