While it might not seem like a big deal to those on the outside, Washoe County high schools are having a difficult time keeping their athletic trainers and refilling those positions once those trainers leave. Four high schools in Washoe County currently have no athletic trainer, while Las Vegas schools hired seven new trainers this past summer.
This isn’t like the old days where coaches told their players to rub some dirt on it and get back out there.
On a typical day after school at Spanish Springs, there is a waiting line for athletes to see athletic trainer Jason Klonicke, even with three student assistants helping tape athletes before practice or helping on the sidelines.
That just shows one reason why it’s hard for Washoe County schools to fill and maintain their athletic trainer positions.
“The athletic trainers that are here now, we have to be teachers to get the balance of the salary and the benefits. Then they get burnt out and don‘t want to do it anymore,” Klonicke said. “I have the full-time teaching job, and I’m also the PE department leader. I’m the full-time athletic trainer here at the school. Then I also work as the Lead Athletic Trainer for the Washoe County School District. I’m juggling being a teacher, an athletic trainer and a father and a husband.
“Every day, the first hour after school is just a zoo. I need to get the athletes ready for practice and games. I’m doing evaluations, setting up water on the field in order to make sure no one dehydrates themselves. I have to do impact testing on top of that, anytime there’s a suspected head injury, and that takes about 45 minutes to an hour. It’s very difficult.”
Making matters worse is the lack of financial support these trainers receive. It’s not like Clark County School District where athletic trainers are salaried employees and receive full benefits.
Athletic trainers in the WCSD receive a $13,000 stipend for their work, but must work another job in order to support a family or even themselves.
“We’ve only had one person apply the past five years, and when they found out what the stipend was, they hung up,” Klonicke said. “They didn’t even say ‘are you kidding me?’ or ask why we’re not doing more for the profession. They straight up hung up on us.”
In order to be employed by WCSD, certified athletic trainers must earn a degree from a college or university with an accredited athletic training program, pass a national certification exam and then maintain licensure to practice as certified athletic trainers in the state of Nevada because they are recognized as health care professionals. Since neither the University of Nevada, Reno nor UNLV offer an athletic training program anymore, Klonicke said trainers from out-of-state need to be recruited to come work for the WCSD. But with only a stipend and no benefits, no one in their right mind would move here to take a job like that.
As the Lead Athletic Trainer for the WCSD, Klonicke is trying to convince the WCSD to make athletic trainers a full-time position like Clark County and Churchill County.
“I was assured this would certainly be looked at for the future,” Klonicke said. “Realistically, I’ve been in the district now for 12 years. This is my 13th year as a teacher and as a certified athletic trainer, and I get how the finances work. I understand we are in a terrible financial crisis, and we will be for who knows how many more years.”
In the interim, Klonicke is working on a joint program with the Reno Orthopedic Clinic. Trainers work part-time at both the ROC and a school, while the ROC provides a small salary and picks up the tab on benefits to go along with the WCSD’s stipend. When the partnership was posted on the National Athletic Trainers’ Association website, six people applied within a week.
“That really proves that we need a full-time position. It’s the only way we will be able to attract people into our schools,” Klonicke said.
Still, Reed High has been without a trainer since the 2011 football season.
Football is the big sport where a trainer would be most needed. To compensate for the lack of a trainer, coaches are looked upon to do whatever they can since they all are required to have minimal first aid and CPR training. However, for anything more serious, emergency services must be called.
“To be honest with you, we’re hopeful that nothing catastrophic happens,” Reed athletic director Ron Coombs said. “But if something does happen, we have been instructed that for any injury that requires immediate medical attention, we call 911. Ankle sprains we can tape and we can ice. Anything major requires an immediate contact with a parent and an immediate contact with emergency services.”
Reed High opens its training room after school for an hour and coaches supervise the room. But when coaches start doing things other than coaching, it puts those teams at a disadvantage.
“It’s extra stress on everybody to make sure we’re getting kids at least minimal attention for their injuries,” Coombs said.
Reed isn’t the only local school without a trainer. North Valleys, Hug and Incline are in the same boat. Like Klonicke, Coombs believes it’s simply a matter of pay.
“It’s just a little over $12,000 a year to be a trainer in the Washoe County School District. It’s a full-time job with part-time pay,” he said.
For anyone interested in learning more about training opportunities and requirements, check out www.nata.org