On her first day as San Rafael High’s athletic trainer, Shana McKeever approached the intern who had filled the on-campus role prior to her arrival in 2013.
She asked the young man, an undergraduate occupational therapy student, to tape her ankle to glean the depth of treatment the school’s athletes were receiving.
“It was atrocious,” said McKeever, a San Rafael graduate who went to Whitworth University for her undergraduate degree and East Tennessee State for her master’s. “He hadn’t learned anything in that field yet.”
In California, schools have the right to hire whoever they please, if anyone at all, to serve as athletic trainer.
Every school, public and private, in Marin County has an athletic trainer, and each one is credited by the Board of Certification, a requirement in every state sans California. They are referred to as ATCs (athletic trainers credential).
“California is usually pretty modern with these kinds of things, and we want our athletes safe,” said Marin Catholic athletic trainer Jamie Waterman, the county’s first full-time ATC in 2001. “It’s disappointing, but it’s great here in Marin that we have certified trainers.
“The schools in the county are definitely under good care.”
The ATCs at the local schools are Americ Alvarado (Redwood), Amanda Boivin (Branson), Steve DeHart (Novato), Aaron Gill (Marin Academy), Brendan Grayber (San Marin), Kit Holsten (Terra Linda), Sarah Merkel (Justin-Siena) and Fernando Saldana and Jessica Clark (Drake). Aubrey Yanda recently took a job at Capuchino High in San Bruno, so Redwood is searching for a replacement, as is Tomales. If they don’t all regularly connect in person, they’re constantly texting, picking each other’s brains.
Assembly Bill 1890 was introduced on Feb. 19, 2014, with the intention of enacting the Athletic Training Practice Act.
“This bill would make it unlawful for any person to hold himself or herself out as an athletic trainer or a certified athletic trainer,” the proposal stated, “or to use specified terms to imply or suggest that the person is an athletic trainer, unless he or she is certified by the Board of Certification, Inc., and has either graduated from a college or university, after completing an accredited athletic training education program, as specified, or completed eligibility requirements for certification by the Board of Certification.”
The bill would have eliminated the possibility of discredited ATCs from around the country to move to California to practice.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s swiftly vetoed the bill after it reached his desk by unanimous vote. In hisresponse, Brown said, “These conditions impose unnecessary burdens on athletic trainers without sufficient evidence that they are really needed.”
“We got parents and athletic directors, administrators, people in the medical field all supporting it,” McKeever said. “It was very frustrating. It was disheartening because there was so much support leading up to it.”
EDUCATING THE PUBLIC
McKeever employs multiple analogies to relay the importance of athletic trainers. A strength and conditioning coach watches countless games, but that doesn’t make he or she qualified to coach, McKeever said, and vice versa.
“People think taping is easy and that it’s all we do,” she said. “We are Allied Healthcare, not Joe Schmo. Do you want someone who’s not trained as a registered nurse to act as a registered nurse?
“It’s just about educating little by little and spreading the word.”
Waterman, who studied at Sonoma State, believes most people confuse athletic trainers and personal trainers.
Athletic trainers’ duties range from taping ankles to dealing with turf toe to treating orthopedic injuries — fractures, ligament strains — to working with EMS, all the way up to life-threatening blows, McKeever said.
“When the fire department gets to our high school, we already have half of what they need done,” Waterman said.
While football — the sport with, by far, the largest roster — typically keeps athletic trainers busiest, Gill doesn’t have to worry about that because Marin Academy doesn’t field a team.
‘NOT GIVING UP’
Gill and Waterman are both employed by their private schools, a traditional model. The rest rely on a medical model, meaning they are hired by institutions such as Marin General Hospital and UCSF Medical Center and contracted to high schools, where they work 40-plus hours a week.
“Someone might understand evaluating certain injuries but not concussions, and they don’t have the taping skills or bracing skills or understand the needs of the athletes,” said Gill, a Marin Academy alum who studied at Arizona. “There are schools out there where people don’t have all the skills, and that puts the athletes at risk.”
The local ATCs don’t have a definitive next step in the fight to ensure every athletic trainer in California is certified, but McKeever said they will attack it from another angle.
“We’re not giving up,” she said. “We care for these student-athletes too much.”