DANVILLE - Ninety-percent of Pennsylvania school districts employ athletic trainers to work with student athletes, more than double the national average of 42 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society.
There’s room for improvement, said Danville Area School District athletic director Ron Kanaskie.
“I’m proud we are a leader, but I think athletic trainers should be mandatory,” said Kanaskie, who also serves as a member of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors and is the district wrestling and golf coach.
He holds his school’s athletic trainer in high regard and lets the coaches know the trainer has the final say on whether a student is able to participate in a sport at any given time.
“When it’s done properly, it creates harmony in the athletic program,” Kanaskie said of the relationship between trainers, coaches and students.
Barb Wertz, a certified athletic trainer at Loyalsock Township High School, credits PIAA’s encouragement of schools to make a certified trainer available to students as well as the state’s popular collegiate sports programs and its high number of educational programs that produce skilled athletic trainers.
Student athletes are at risk when a certified athletic trainer isn’t on hand, she said.
One Pennsylvania school district made the decision to employ an athletic trainer after a visiting Loyalsock High School athlete fractured his leg during a competition and there wasn’t one available.
“We’re asking kids to participate in a sport that puts them at risk of a concussion or heat stroke,” she said. “We need someone there to monitor them because it’s too overwhelming for our coaches to deal with all of it.”
All of the local school districts in Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Montour counties have athletic trainers.
Shikellamy School District’s athletic trainer Michael Elder said he has the last word on when a student is healthy enough to participate in sports and when they should rest or seek medical treatment.
“It take the pressure off coaches and allows them to focus on what they were hired to do - coach,” Elder said.
He’s worked with Shikellamy athletes for 13 years and said he’s available to them at all times. Elder examined a football player Thursday who hurt his back during a school field trip the day before and since he’s affiliated with Geisinger Sports Medicine as its senior athletic trainer, has access to a wide array of medical expertise.
“Our athletes know they’re being properly cared for. There’s a comfort zone,” Kanaskie said.
It also puts coaches at ease, knowing they can concentrate on an athlete’s performance while another professional is monitoring their health.
For instance, he said, many common injuries such as a concussion, may not be easily identifiable by a coach, but a person trained to recognize danger signs could save a child’s life.
“We don’t have to worry about making a misdiagnosis,” Kanaskie said.