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Funding could scuttle proposal for high school trainers

The N.C. High School Athletic Association wants to study a proposal that would require schools to hire certified athletic trainers. The move would initially cost the state $18 million.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Members of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association said Wednesday they need more time to review a proposal that high schools be required to have certified athletic trainers on staff.

The proposal at the NCHSAA's annual meeting came after the deaths of three North Carolina high school football players in recent months, two of whom died from head injuries.

In October, a panel of sports medicine experts said that any high school athlete suspected of suffering a concussion must be cleared by a physician before he or she can play or practice.

The association's medical committee also established a task force to determine whether high schools should be required to have certified athletic trainers on staff. The group recommended that all high schools have a trainer by August 2011.

Members of the NCHSAA board said they wanted lawmakers, the state Board of Education, the state Department of Public Instruction, state associations of school boards and school administrators and legal counsel to review the proposal before they acted on it.

The board plans to meet again in February with representatives of the other groups to discuss the idea.

"There's no doubt that having that licensed athletic trainer ... is certainly the way we want to go," board member Bobby Guthrie said.

Schools now must have a first responder trained in CPR and first aid on staff. Some have said that training isn't enough to prevent another sports-related death, while others said hiring certified athletic trainers would be too expensive for some schools.

The trainer requirement would initially cost $18 million, but the annual cost of having the trainers on every high school's staff was unclear Wednesday.

The NCHSAA wants the state to pick up the cost of hiring trainers, but a growing state budget deficit that has led to cuts in most state agencies makes that unlikely now.

Lawmakers on Wednesday discussed a proposal to help teachers become certified as athletic trainers, but they took no action.

"I have looked at the circumstances, and I really think that at least two of the three deaths that occurred could have been prevented," Al Proctor, of the North Carolina Sports Medicine Foundation, told the legislative panel.

Atlas Fraley, 17, of Chapel Hill High School, Juquan Waller, 17, of J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, and Matt Gfeller, 15, of Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, died in August and September.

Fraley’s parents found him unresponsive on the evening of Aug. 12 at the family’s home, hours after he had participated in a football scrimmage.

An autopsy report hasn't been completed, but the NCHSAA report noted he collapsed from heat exhaustion.

Fraley called 911 that afternoon and said he felt dehydrated. Paramedics were sent to his home, but he wasn't taken to a hospital for treatment.

Both Orange County EMS and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are investigating the circumstances surrounding Fraley's death. Neither agency has disclosed yet what it has found.

Gfeller died Aug. 24, two days after a hit that he took in a game against Greensboro Page High School led to cranial bleeding.

Waller, a junior running back, left the field after being tackled in a game and then collapsed on the sideline. He was taken to Pitt Memorial Hospital, where he was placed on life support. He died on Sept. 20.

He had been hit in practice two days before the game and suffered a mild concussion, and a medical examiner determined the cause of death to be "second-impact syndrome," in which a person receives two or more blows to the head in a short period.

Chapel Hill High had an athletic trainer on duty the day Fraley died, officials said. Most Wake County schools also have trainers on staff already.

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Erin Hartness, Reporter
Keith Baker, Photographer
Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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