EMT Promotes School Athletic Trainers

Frank Mastrangelo of Shirley is an EMT and a certified athletic trainer who volunteers his skills at Shirley Youth Football games and Friday night games at the Ayer Middle-High School.

The school hires an EMT to work the games, but Mastrangelo said he believes all high schools should have a paid athletic trainer on staff.

This week he urged the new Ayer Shirley Regional School District School Committee to hire an athletic trainer when the new regional high school opens next year.

“It’s time to put it on the radar, because I’m afraid something is going to happen,” Mastrangelo said.

Student athletes of all sports need somebody to care for their injuries and find ways to prevent them during practices as well as games, he said.

Mastrangelo made it clear he is not looking for the job himself. He praised the work EMTs perform but said their normal responsibilities are different than those of athletic trainers. EMTs perform immediate care when a patient is hurt and then transport them to a hospital, if necessary.

Billy Poitras, an EMT and member of the Ayer High School Athletic Boosters, said athletic trainers can provide health care well beyond an EMT.

“We can’t do a lot other than put them in an ambulance and send them to a hospital, but an athletic trainer can do a lot more than we can,” he said.

A four-month Scripps Howard News Service review found that for every high school that has one or more athletic trainers regularly assigned to the training room, two other schools rely on a patchwork of coaches trained in first aid and part-time athletic trainers, nurses, emergency medical technicians or team doctors.

Nationwide there are only about 6,400 athletic trainers working in secondary schools, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. But there are 18,400 public and private high schools sponsoring interscholastic sports, according to a review by Scripps Howard.

Organizations as disparate as the American Medical Association and the North American Booster Club Association endorse having a certified trainer in high schools, but many administrators feel they can’t afford one, according to Scripps Howard.

Athletic trainers on school staff typically make about the same salaries as teachers — many do have classroom assignments — but usually receive a bonus for extra hours. The average salary nationally is about $42,400. About a third of high-school athletic trainers work for clinics that contract with schools for their services, full or part time, Scripps said.

Athletic trainers can evaluate a condition and check the extent of injury that may not be visible by manipulating muscles, ligaments and joints beyond the training of EMTs, Mastrangelo said.

Concussions have become a significant concern in sports, and athletic trainers can evaluate them, as well.

Athletic trainers receive far more medical training than EMT’s, Mastrangelo said.

“We’re talking 110 hours of training (for an EMT) versus a four-year degree, licensing by the state, the whole nine yards,” he said.

Athletic trainers are certified and licensed by the state Division of Professional Licensure under the Board of Allied Health, Mastrangelo said.

“This is one of those hot issues to my heart” he said. “I’ve seen people out there make bad calls on kids’ injuries because they aren’t a physician or have the training.”

It is unfair to put the onus on coaches, or even EMTs, to make a decision whether a player is sufficiently healthy to return to a game or practice if an athletic trainer is available, Mastrangelo said.

“We’re like a MASH unit on the field … we also know when it’s time to refer them to an orthopedic specialist or family doctor,” he said.

A number of schools in North Central Massachusetts have athletic trainers on staff.

Schools that already have athletic trainers include North Middlesex Regional High School Nashoba Regional High School, Lunenburg High School, and Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.

Peter McCauliff, the athletic director at Lunenburg High School, said athletic trainers provide important medical treatment but are difficult to afford.

In place of a full-time athletic trainer, the school has pieced to together an effective care system relying on volunteers.

They include athletic trainer Wayne Penniman, who has a physical therapy clinic in Clinton, and Dr. Ralph Spada, who work with school nurse Carolyn Finch to form a triumvirate of care for the student athletes, McCauliff sad.

Penniman and Spada are at the school games to provide care, and if a student is injured they report it to Finch so she can coordinate follow-up medical treatment if necessary, McCauliff said.

Dr. J. Herbert Stevenson, who serves as director of sports medicine and director of the sports medicine fellowship for the UMass Department of Family Medicine in Fitchburg, works closely with the school as well, he said.

There is also at least one EMT at football games so emergency treatment is available.

“Having the resources and generosity of those people has really helped out because there is no place in my budget to bring an athletic trainer on,” McCauliff said. “What I’d like to see is an athletic trainer at every single one of our practices and games, but that is just not possible.”

Jim Beauregard, the athletic director at St. Bernard High School, said the school has small programs and a tight budget so it doesn’t use a full-time athletic trainer.

Coaches are either certified in first aid or are EMTs, and UMass Medical sends a representative on Monday for stretching and other skills, Beauregard said.

“It works out fine for us,” he said. “We’ve never had any instances where not have a physical trainer on site hurt us.”

Leominster High School Athletic Director Christopher Young said the school relies on an EMT at games which works well.

“The reason I don’t even petition for a trainer is we play every outdoor sport off-campus and it’s a different location so I wouldn’t have a home base,” he said.

Fitchburg High School has EMT Alan Twomley, who also works at the school so he is available to student and knows them, said Athletic Director Ray Consenza.

The school has a doctor at its football games; the doctor also visits the school on Mondays to check on athletes who were injured in games, he said.

“So we are very fortunate for the coverage we have,” Consenza said.

Like Fitchburg and Leominster, Gardner High School has a doctor and EMT at its football games.

“I don’t think it’s mandated we have an athletic trainer at all events but it would be nice to have one,” said Athletic Director Howie Clash.

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