Athletic trainers emphasized more with start of summer conditioning

The Lakewood players, nearly all of whom were wearing masks, gathered in a single-file line by the gymnasium, ready to turn in waivers that answered health questions related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

And that was before the Spartans even stepped on to the practice field for their first conditioning session of the summer. 

“I’ve been here 13 years and this is going to be a first,” Lakewood coach Cory Moore said about conducting workouts amid COVID-19 safety regulations. 

Public schools in three area counties  — Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas  — were cleared to start summer conditioning on Monday. Pasco County will start July 1. Most private schools in the area had their first workouts last week. 

The counties that started all followed similar safety precautions such as limiting workouts to outdoor activities and practicing social distancing.  

The players at Lakewood brought their own jugs of water. They were separated in groups of 10 (nine players and one coach) with no more than 30 participating in one session. 

Conditioning consisted of light sprints or jogs the length of the practice field, followed by frequent water breaks. Trainers were there, as well as every other public school in Pinellas County. 

Al Bennett, the county athletic director, said last week that he was able to get monetary approval to have athletic trainers at every school through the first two phases of summer conditioning. 

The 45-week contract the Pinellas County school district has with health care facilities to provide athletic trainers leaves a good portion of the summer uncovered. But Bennett was able to get the funding, in part because of the money saved by not paying for athletic trainers in April and May when schools were shut down due to the virus. 

“I just feel better sleeping at night, and I’m sure the coaches do, too, knowing that an athletic trainer was there,” Bennett said. 

It is not just safety precautions with the virus that athletic trainers are monitoring. The Zachary Martin Act, unanimously passed by the Florida Senate in March, is supposed to be implemented next month. The bill, named after a former Fort Myers Riverdale lineman who died days after collapsing from a summer workout in 2017, calls for a number of heat-related measures, including immersion tubs or cooling equivalents and wet bulb global thermometers. 

On Monday, the Spartans had two athletic trainers there for the start of conditioning. Buckets of ice and a tarp were on hand to serve as a cooling mechanism for players until the school’s immersion tub is delivered this week. They also practiced using the wet bulb thermometer with coaches so they all are familiar with the device once it becomes mandatory through a Florida statute.

“At the end of the day we want our kids to be safe,” Moore said. “Life is more important than any physical activity. So these precautions may be a little uncomfortable, but if it’s going to take that for us to be healthy, and for the guys and the coaches to go home safely, then so be it.”

And Moore’s job is easier having an athletic training staff on site.

“I think if you don’t have that now, with everything that’s going on, you’re putting yourself in a very bad situation,” he said, referring to athletic trainers. 

Not every county is in the same situation. Hillsborough’s partnership with USF’s Sports Medicine & Athletic-Related Trauma (SMART) Institute has dissolved, leaving the county to find athletic trainers at 11 high schools. The district has assigned medical-trained staff (nurses) for four hours a day to schools currently without trainers during the start of summer conditioning. To make matters worse, the county’s contract with Select Physical Therapy might not be renewed after the summer. If that happens, Hillsborough County would be left to find trainers for 23 of its 28 public schools when fall practices start.  

A petition started last week through calls for the district to employ athletic trainers at every public high school in Hillsborough County. It already has more than 1,400 signatures. 

Hernando County public schools started summer conditioning without athletic trainers — again. The lack of athletic trainers in the county has as much to do with geography as it does with finances, especially with many of the larger health care facilities located outside of Hernando. 

At Lakewood, the trainers did more than just survey conditioning. They even helped set up some of the workouts. 

“For us, we’ve kind of already made a statement that if our trainer is not here then we’re not going to be at practice because we all need that,” Moore said.