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Sarlo Introduces Measure To Require High Schools To Have Certified Athletic Trainers On Staff

Says Measure Would Ensure Proper Medical Attention for Injured Student-Athletes

TRENTON – Senator Paul A. Sarlo, a long-time proponent of youth sports, today unveiled legislation that he will introduce when the Legislature reconvenes this Fall to require high school athletic departments to have a certified athletic trainer on staff in order to properly treat sports-related injuries, head trauma and heat exhaustion.

“School sports give our kids an opportunity to be active, healthy, and learn the fundamentals of the game, but proper precautions must be in a place to make sure these activities are safe,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic, who also volunteers as a coach for various sports in the Wood-Ridge recreation leagues. “It seems like common sense that when a team is practicing, that there be a trained medical professional on hand to provide immediate care if need be. This bill is about keeping our student athletes safe and out of harm’s way.”

The bill would require all high schools in New Jersey that maintain an athletic department to have an athletic trainer on staff in an effort to reduce injury and illness among student athletes. Senator Sarlo said that in some cases involving serious injury or for athletes with pre-existing medical conditions, immediate medical attention from a trained professional could mean the difference between life and death. He also noted that, particularly at a time of the year when many schools are drilling football players and other athletes for the upcoming school sports seasons in the final days of summer, a medically-certified athletic trainer at practices would be able to spot the warning signs for heat exhaustion, and step in if appropriate.

“Many high school coaches do a great job inspiring their kids and teaching them the principles of the game, but they don’t necessarily have the medical training needed to see the warning signs of heat stroke or minor concussions,” said Senator Sarlo. “Schools should have an athletic trainer on site who can step in and make sure our kids are staying healthy and safe, in practice and on game day. Our kids safety should be of the utmost importance when they participate in high school athletics.”

Senator Sarlo said he became interested in the issue after hearing about a case in Kentucky in which a football coach was charged with “reckless homicide and wanton endangerment” after a student collapsed and died from complications brought on by heat stroke during a particularly intense practice. Senator Sarlo added that while the coach was found not guilty yesterday and the death was ruled as accidental, the issue of student athletes’ health and safety during practices and games is still important. The lawmaker added that many coaches have to be more reactive than proactive to medical conditions, simply because they don’t have the medical training necessary to identify warnings of dangerous medical conditions before they become serious.

“The case in Kentucky definitely illustrates the problems with the lack of athletic trainers on-site during team practices,” said Senator Sarlo, who received an honorable mention as American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Division III All-American when he played baseball in college for the New Jersey Institution of Technology (NJIT) Highlanders. “As a former high school and college athlete and current children’s sports coach, I know how important a good practice can be, but I can also definitely imagine a scenario where a well-meaning coach inadvertently pushes his team too hard during practice, and tragedy strikes. There’s a fine line between pushing our kids to achieve their best, and pushing them too far, and without medical training, I think some coaches can’t see when they cross over that line.

“In New Jersey, we’ve already seen that pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart conditions, or serious injury for student athletes can spell tragedy,” added Senator Sarlo. “Having a certified athletic trainer on-hand reduces the risk, and ensures that injured or ill players have access to immediate medical care if they should need it.”