The Sports Medicine Committee of the N.C. High School Athletic Association was told Thursday morning to recommend that every secondary school in the state have a licensed athletic trainer or recommend that football, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls soccer and wrestling be dropped.
Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, the chairman of the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of North Carolina and a national leader in concussion research, said eliminating sports would be a dramatic step, but said if school systems say they cannot afford full-time licensed athletic trainers that the system should drop those sports and save the money until they can.
Guskiewicz began his remarks by saying how difficult concussions, or traumatic brain injuries are to diagnoses.
"The key is to have a person there who is trained to recognize the symptoms and to take the right actions," he said. "Nothing can replace having the right person there."
The NCHSAA Sports Medicine Committee usually mets in March, but the group meet earlier this fall in the wake of three football-related deaths in North Carolina.
Guskiewicz was asked to make recommendations to the committee. The Sports Medicine Committee is expected to make recommendations to the full NCHSAA board in December. Guskiewicz has agreed to come and make a presentation to the full board.
Guskiewicz said he had not had time to develop his recommendations fully, but he gave the committee an outline that included a push by the NCHSAA to the North Carolina General Assembly to mandate and fund that at least one licensed athletic trainer be at each secondary school.
He said the athletic trainer should be a full-time trainer and not a teacher who adds training duties. One trainer may have to cover up to 26 athletic teams per year.
The cost of having a full-time athletic trainer at each school was estimated to be about $18 million per year, if trainers were paid $40,000 per year.
"This is a public health issue," Guskiewicz said. "We need to say the safety and health of our high school athletes is a priority."
Guskiewicz said that if a school has a full-time athletic trainer, the school would receive, at no cost, accessment tools to help evaluate concussions. Athletes would have baseline tests before the season so that trainers could have a baseline to judge trainers.
He also recommended that a group of 10 to 12 experts on brain injuries throughout the state be assembled to be a resource to licensed athletic trainers.