Club sport athletes left vulnerable to injuries without on-site trainers

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Club sport athletes left vulnerable to injuries without on-site trainers

Anna Arnsberger

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During a home field hockey game this past season, junior Sabina Lordan received a ball to the face that resulted in a concussion. Since field hockey is a club sport, there was no on-site medical assistance to treat Lordan’s injury. 

In another field hockey game just two weeks later, a player from School Without Walls broke his finger during the run of play. This time, an athletic trainer was present, but field hockey’s status as a club sport meant she could not offer help. 

DCIAA does not provide athletic trainers for non-sanctioned sports, so club teams often operate with limited available medical assistance. While dangerous, this is the convention all club teams are used to operating under. If athletes wish to participate, they are forced to accept the level of risk that comes with playing without an athletic trainer. 

Lordan made her own decision to leave the game once hit with the ball. “It was completely up to me whether to go off the field or stay on, because nobody came up to me or anything,” she said. Once on the sideline, an assistant coach and a player’s mom assessed Lordan’s injury and recommended she go to the ER to be checked out. But had those two not been available, Lordan could have continued with the game, blissfully unaware of the increasingly hazardous head injury she had acquired. 

Despite the extremely lax protocol, there are still some medical-related requirements for club sports. In the absence of trained professionals, all Wilson coaches are required to have a basic understanding of CPR and first aid. This demand is imperative as there are, understandably, too many athletes for one trainer to take care of. But relying solely on coaches, who are distracted during games and often have just the bare minimum of medical knowledge, leaves students alarmingly vulnerable.

According to Jamila Watson, Lead Athletic Trainer for DCPS and Wilson, “DC law states that for high-contact sports, there should be medical coverage at games. But there is no one that really officially oversees compliance by the club sports.” A number of club sports offered by Wilson, including field hockey, lacrosse, and JV basketball, involve contact and often result in injuries. But with no established DCIAA or Wilson rules mandating athletic trainers to be present for such games, the health of the players is often neglected. 

While the risk of playing club sports is meant to be explicitly recognized, a lack of communication has created confusion. Club sport participants are supposed to sign the Club Sport Participation Consent form at the beginning of each season, “which basically outlines that they are responsible for their own insurance…as well as that club sports do not receive athletic trainer coverage” said Watson. But that form, which is absent from both the Wilson Athletics and DCIAA websites, often goes ignored. Instead, students are told to complete the packet for DCIAA-sanctioned sports, meaning they receive “the wrong information and they expect to get athletic trainer services and that’s not correct,” explained Watson. 

In order to protect club players, there is an option to contract athletic trainers for sporting events. “When there are special events, like say a wrestling tournament or something like that, we have had trainers come in,” said Athletic Director Mitch Gore. Nevertheless, contracting athletic trainers is a rare occurrence as most teams opt to spend their budget on alternative expenses, like referees and buses. But as players continue to receive injuries from club sports, the priorities for organizing sports games must be reevaluated. Wilson’s athletic department needs to increase the accountability and regulation for medical assistance in order to protect its student athletes.