Dozens of Vermont schools lack athletic training staff for high school and youth sports

Safety of athletes at every level is in the national conversation, as Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin continues to recover from cardiac arrest he suffered on
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 6:28 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The safety of athletes at every level is in the national conversation, as Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin continues to recover from the cardiac arrest he suffered on the field earlier this month. Experts say the fast reaction by medical staff likely saved Hamlin’s life, but athletic trainers aren’t on the sidelines on all of Vermont’s fields and courts.

Colchester High School Head Athletic Trainer Jorie Farnsworth says what happened to Damar Hamlin, or any cardiac event, is pretty rare in Vermont school sports. But she keeps in mind data from the Mayo Clinic that shows sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes. Farnsworth says her team is prepared for the worst.

“If a kid goes down on the field, it could be a lot of different things,” Farnsworth said. “So being prepared for [a cardiac event] is really, really important and just having awareness of where the AEDs are, how fast you can get to the field, which kids have preexisting conditions when it comes to cardiac issues.”

But not every Vermont high school is able to have athletic trainers like Farnsworth on the field. Out of 71 member schools of the Vermont Principals’ Association, 44 have some form of trainer staffed. The VPA says that could be on a full-time, part-time or per diem basis. But that also means 27, or nearly 40% of Vermont high schools don’t have one. The VPA says cost, school location and lack of staff all contribute to that absence.

“The risk of not having an athletic trainer is far greater than the cost of hiring,” said Matt Bain, the head athletic trainer at the University of Vermont.

Bain hopes the Hamlin injury drives schools to realize the importance of athletic trainers, who he says are ready for nearly every medical event.

“We have emergency action plans for each facility here at the University of Vermont. And we rehearse those annually. We rehearse CPR, AED, we rehearse oxygen, we rehearse catastrophic bleeding, open fractures, spinal immobilization,” he said.

Preparing is crucial for Farnsworth, too, as her team responds to hundreds of injuries per year. She says trainers’ relationships with athletes are just as important as preparing, saying it helps instill confidence in students, which can be a game changer for student health, the community and schools.

“It’s really important that they can trust you and that their parents can trust you so the community can come behind you when you need them,” Farnsworth said.

Even if schools do not have athletic trainers the VPA does require paid coaches to receive CPR, AED and Emergency Action Plan training, and get that renewed every two years. It’s only recommended for volunteer coaches. When it comes to middle school or youth sports, trainers that spoke with WCAX say it’s not often athletic trainers are available. They may be if there is a large tournament, but typically not at individual games.