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Athletic trainers guard against concussions -- if schools have them

PHOENIX -- Whether it's an athlete from Campo Verde High School or one of its opponents, all students suspected of sustaining a concussion playing sports at the Gilbert high school are referred to David Mesman, Campo Verde's athletic trainer.

"We're here to take care of patients, we're not here for win-losses," he said.

Mesman said that schools without an athletic trainer face disadvantages when athletes may have suffered concussions, including not being able to effectively use the ImPACT test to return athletes to play.

"Without a health care provider knowing and understanding those tools, they wouldn't be able to implement them to the best of their abilities," he said.

Dr. John Parsons, an associate professor and director of the athletic training program at A.T. Still University, estimated that 40 to 45 percent of Arizona high schools have full-time athletic trainers on staff or have access to athletic trainers.

Among those without is Joseph City High School, where Mike Sterkowitz is the athletic director. He said his school follows what's laid out in the state law and Arizona Interscholastic Association policy.

"It would be great to be able to have a physical trainer on campus," he said. "I'm sure every school would love to have that available to them."

Joseph City does have EMTs available from the local volunteer fire department at all football games, he said.

Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, who sponsored Arizona's 2011 concussion law, said it wouldn't be financially or politically feasible for the state to require athletic trainers at each high school.

"You tell Pima, Ariz., ‘You must have an athletic trainer,' " Crandall said. " ‘OK, I'm just going to have to get rid of my chemistry teacher to do that.' "

Joanne Scandura, the athletic trainer at Seton Catholic Prep High School in Chandler, said that even with the advantages of an athletic trainer on staff, she and her colleagues across the state can only monitor so many sports at once.

"You just have to trust that your student's going to be honest with you," she said. "It's not fun because you can't be there all the time and you have to trust them, and my school's pretty lucky that I do trust them and they are forthcoming about it, and if they're not, a student will rat them out -- because they want them to heal too."

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