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Lack of Athletic Trainers Puts Strain on Student-Athletes

At St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), close to 400 students, or about 25 percent of the school’s undergraduate student population, participate in varsity sports. Taking care of these students’ injuries is the responsibility of the athletic training staff, who are professionals trained to treat and prevent bone and muscle injuries.

Currently, the school has two full-time athletic trainers and one part-time athletic training intern to care for our nearly 400 varsity student-athletes and one trainer for students who participate in  club sports. However, according to guidelines written by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), a professional organization that sets best practice standards for the industry, SMCM should have four and a half full-time athletic trainers to properly care for our student-athlete population based on the number of athletes the school has and the types of sports played.

What the College is facing, however, is not unprecedented, according to Director of Athletics and Recreation Scott Devine. “A lot of schools our size are dealing with this issue, especially schools that have grown in size and added sports,” said Devine. SMCM, like other colleges, has gone through such growth. Back in 2000, when Devine began working at SMCM, there were approximately 300 student-athletes, 12 full-time staff members and one full-time athletic trainer. By 2001, the school added a second full-time athletic trainer and in 2009 it added two varsity teams and a third athletic trainer. The school was able to grow its staff, including its number of athletic trainers, as it increased the number of varsity sports and student-athletes at the school. But budget cuts in 2013 caused the school to move back down to two athletic trainers, and today we have our two athletic trainers and one athletic training intern.

Devine has stated that the administration has been supportive of the athletics department’s needs, and that Provost Michael Wick and President Tuajuanda Jordan have been aware of the issues. They want to bring the school to up best practices from both a safety standpoint and in terms of helping the school with enrollment issues.

The shortage of athletic trainers as SMCM was not clear to students until recently. Sam Coomes, president of the Student-Athlete Advising Committee (SAAC) and a team captain of men’s cross country, became aware of it last semester when he took Intro to Athletic Training (PHEC164). It was in this class, taught by Jen Robertson, head athletic trainer at SMCM, that Coomes learned about the staffing shortage. “We had talked about the NATA and how it sets up its regulations and it was kind of mentioned that, like, St. Mary’s isn’t doing a good job [meeting NATA guidelines],” said Coomes.

Since learning about the athletic trainer shortage, Coomes has brought up the issue at SAAC meetings and has gathered student testimonies on the matter. Coomes told The Point News that the testimonies include students having to rearrange their schedules because the athletic trainers are too busy to treat students before their practices, students having to wait in hour-long lines to be treated by an athletic trainer, students not being perform as well at away games because SMCM athletic trainers must stay on campus to attend to the greater number of student-athletes here and students refusing to see the athletic trainers at all because the scheduling is so inconvenient.

Coomes and Devine have both made it a point to say that the state of service within the athletic department is not the fault of the athletic trainers. “They’re doing, like, terrific jobs; they’re doing the jobs of like four people,” stated Coomes. Devine has said that “we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had excellent employees in that area.”

The student testimonies Coomes collected from student-athletes will go to Devine from there sent to Wick. “Dr. Wick and I have had ongoing conversations about staff needs, so this is not a surprise to him,” says Devine. Rather, it is an issue of balancing priorities across the whole campus.

Coomes hopes the student testimonies produce real change. “This is a problem … the Division III philosophy is [about] the student-athlete experience … We’re just doing it to have fun. And, like, you can’t have fun when you’re not safe.”

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