ELYRIA, Ohio — No matter the sport, the game is evolving. In Ohio, there's an increasing concern for young athletes' health & safety.
And with the number of sports injuries on the rise — and with school back in session there is a growing concern. Yet there remains an alarming question. Why are athletic trainers still not mandated in Ohio schools?
"Seeing the expectation that is put on the athletes, every sport now is year-round. There's really no breaks for any of them so there's an increase in chronic injuries and overuse injuries," said Elyria High School athletic trainer Laura Breese.
Breese says it's not up to the healthcare professionals or the schools.
"In order for it to be mandated, it's going to have to be made an Ohio law," said Breese.
In the 2023-24 Ohio High School Sports Athletics Association handbook — it states that while, " licensed athletic trainers are strongly recommended at sporting events, games & practices, they are not mandatory. "
Also, it does not have the ability to force schools to add staff that would issue an unfunded mandate & cost schools more money." 3News reached out to the OHSAA and has not heard back. There currently is no bill that looks to change the association's policy.
Ohio's Athletic Trainer's Association hopes to change that. In fact, here's where we stand as a state.
According to ATLAS, or the Athletic Training Location and Services, of the 840 schools that make up the OHSAA, only 390 schools have a full-time athletic trainer on staff and 290 schools have a part-time trainer. That leaves 160 schools in the state without any athletic training services at all.
Elyria High School Principal, Jodie Johnson says as a new school year starts, they are delivering on the school's promise to keep student-athletes safe & healthy is a priority.
"Although our coaches are equipped with some of the knowledge, they don't have the knowledge base that an athletic trainer comes with," Johnson said. For every school, having an athletic trainer, at all times is priceless. "We are at an advantage with our two athletic trainers because they love what they do," said Johnson.
Athletic trainers Ann Hamker and Breese work as a team. "We've done this in and out, we've done our emergency action plan and this is what we were raised to do. we do it every day."
They're contracted to work for the high school outside of their independent practice Jaworski Physical Therapy. The group of trainers tag team at every single school sporting event.
Hamker says, "Especially when the kids come here they know that they're gonna get some of the best free healthcare, the parents know they'll get the best free healthcare they're going to have in their lives. On top of that, the education because we can work with these kids one on one instead of them going to the doctor's office and half the time the kids come back and tell us, the doctor didn't even touch my knee. "
No matter how big or small the injury, they say the care they've provided athletes for more than 30 years now is valuable. But there are a few obstacles -- school athletic trainers are in short supply.
"It does concern me because there's not enough of us around anymore so what are we going to do? What's going to happen in the next couple of years?" said Hamker.
And there aren't many schools that are able to afford them on their staff full-time. Yet, like many other athletic trainers across the state of Ohio -- Bresse and Hamker stay busy.
"We get phone calls a couple of times a week just looking for athletic trainers to help because there's not enough, " Hamker said. "What we do, it does matter to people that we do it the way we do, we do it right."
The efforts of the OATA to call on legislators to step up for the future of Ohio school athletics continue. They say they are
actively working on getting both the OHSAA & the State Department of Education to propose a bill that will hopefully enforce & fully fund athletic trainers across every school within the state.