School Trainers Healing Budgets, Too

Screening Process Keeps Less Serious Injuries Away From Doctor's Office

February 17, 1991|By Ed McDonough | Ed McDonough,Staff writer

Though putting athletic trainers in the high schools is costing the Board of Education nearly $14,000 a year, Paul Welliver said the program actually may be saving money for Carroll.

"Athletic trainers save money in the short term," said Welliver, program director at the Carroll County Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in Westminster and the person who helped promote trainers in the schools.

Before trainers came to the high schools, Welliver said, nine of 10 athletes with even minor injuries had to seek medical care. Now, with trainers screening the injuries, only three or four of those 10 must see a doctor.

"We're not playing doctor," said Welliver, who was the head trainer at Western Maryland College for several years before joining the center. He now works several hours a day as the trainer at Westminster High.

"We're screening the kids," he said. "We work with the kids and their insurance companies to get them to the right doctors when they need to see one."

The county finally has trainers in all five of the high schools after starting the program three years ago. It's been difficult to hire permanent trainers because they are hired part time, just as coaches are.

Ideally, say Welliver and Earl Hersh, the county's supervisor of physical education and athletics, trainers in the future will be full-time teachers in the school system who are certified trainers. Only one -- Liberty's Bob Berger -- fits that description now, with Welliver and three Western Maryland College students handling the other four positions.

That will result in some turnover next year, when three trainers will finish up at Western Maryland, with some heading on to graduate school. Still, Welliver said he has one potential trainer who has applied for a teaching position in the county, and another county resident who should be certified as a trainer this summer likely will be doing student teaching in Carroll next year.

Welliver said other Western Maryland students may be ready to fill positions next year, though he added that a school board policy requiring paid employees to be 21 might mean the younger trainers would be hired by the sports medicine center and sent to schools on a contractual basis.

Aside from possible problems with keeping the positions filled, the program seems to be making life much easier for county coaches and athletic directors.

"It's just a tremendous help when you have someone with their experience," said Gary Watson, the athletic director at Francis Scott Key High. "It's been invaluable."

Watson said coaches from Monocacy ValleyAthletic League teams are surprised that the school has someone at every game to help diagnose injuries.

"They were amazed that somebody was here to handle these cases," Watson said.

Robert Hess, a senior at Western Maryland and the trainer at Key, said his warm reception from everyone -- coaches, players, administrators and parents -- has been gratifying.

"Everybody's been fabulous," Hess said, noting Watson has been responsive to all requests for trainers supplies such as gauze, tape and bandages. "It's a very good feeling to be welcomed in with open hands."

Hess said one part of his job is trying to prevent minor injuries from becoming more serious by trying to detect slight limps or changes in an athlete's mechanics before more medical intervention is needed.

Another benefit, Welliver said, was a decrease in calls for emergency medical services from area volunteer fire departments.

"We haven't had an ambulance call to WestminsterHigh this year," he said.

Typically, athletes who received back and neck injuries in a game or practice remained stationary on the field until paramedics or emergency medical technicians from the fire department arrived. Trainers, he said, are able to determine more quickly than coaches if the potential injury is serious enough to precludemoving the player from the field.

Though Carroll was the first county in the state to budget for trainers in all of its high schools, and was the first school system to actually have trainers in each school, other counties are following the lead, Welliver said.

Hess said in a typical day, he arrives at Key between 2:30 and 3 p.m. and evaluates all injured athletes. Depending on practice schedules, he'll check on as many teams as possible, and also attends home games in just about every sport.

"In our field, the more hours you put in, the more confidence you have," Hess said. "(A trainer) is not just a person who tapes players and puts ice on them."

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