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Athletic Trainers In DISD Help Keep Kids Out Of ERs And In The Game

Dianna Douglas
Teresa Kikugawa wraps ice on senior Oscar Castro's calves at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas ISD.

The Dallas Independent School District was recently commended by the National Athletic Trainers Association and the Youth Sports Safety Alliance for putting athletic trainers at all 23 of its high schools over the last two years.

We recently visited one of the Dallas high schools to see how a trainer helps athletes.   

Teresa Kikugawa works out of a small trailer behind the gym at Bryan Adams High School. It has stretching bands, exercise balls, examination tables, and a constant stream of students.

One day after school, senior Oscar Castro, a track runner, worked his calves on a foam roller on the floor, trying to stay ahead of shin splints.

Kikugawa wrapped his calves in ice and sent him back to his coach.

A soccer coach brought her another case—one of his players is having headaches and nausea. The coach gave her a print-out of the CT scan that the kid had the night before, after getting hit in a game.

While the CT scan doesn’t show any hemorrhaging, she thinks his symptoms are worth investigating more.

“I’ll get him the paperwork to see our concussion doctor,” she tells the coach.

Kikugawa sees about 30 students a day, trying to keep them healthy and on the field.

“I see a lot of ankle sprains, I see a lot of knee injuries, we see a lot of concussions that we manage,” she said. “Anything from scrapes and bruises to the more serious injuries that need surgery.”

Catching up on student athlete safety

Kikugawa is at Bryan Adams all day and stays for after-school practices and games. Dallas ISD hired her a year and a half ago, at a time when there were only 10 athletic trainers for the entire city.

Dallas lagged far behind most suburban schools in North Texas. A survey by the National Athletic Trainers Associationestimates that 62 percent of high schools in Texas have a full-time athletic trainer, and 14 percent have a part-time athletic trainer. 

“Kids were getting injured, and you had someone from another district say, 'where’s your trainer?' and we said, 'we don’t have one,'" recalled Louisa Meyer, a leader of the grassroots effort by parents and community members that pushed the district to put athletic trainers in every high school.

She was president of the DISD Citizen Budget Review Commission, and helped the district find $3 million in its budget to fund the program.

She feels like the money spent to make sports safer is well spent.

“Extracurricular activities are the greatest dropout prevention program. Athletes have higher academic achievement, high attendance rates, and fewer discipline referrals,” Meyer said.

Visit the trainer, stay in the game

Kikugawa says that when the student realized they had their own athletic trainer, “the loads came through my door, because they hadn’t had this luxury, or resource, before. Simple things like nutrition or how to stretch properly.”

A surprising benefit to the families at Bryan Adams has been fewer unnecessary doctor visits.

“Parents don’t know if it’s an emergency or not, and they take them to hospital. They get this huge bill. Bet these are things I can do in house for absolutely free,” she said.

Three quarters of the students at Bryan Adams are considered poor. Not having athletic trainers makes playing sports more dangerous for kids without good health insurance or whose families can't afford doctor visits. They just had to hope they didn’t get hurt.

Across North Texas, there are heroic stories from high school athletic trainers. Last month, a trainer at a Richardson high school used a defibrillator on a football player who collapsed during practice. The school and the boy’s mother credit the athletic trainer with saving his life.

Most of the cases Kikugawa sees are far less dramatic.

“My contact came out,” said one of the visitors to her trailer, Jameshia Lawson, a senior on the girls’ basketball team. Kikugawa gave her some contact solution, and then rooted around her eye to help her find the missing contact.

“We’ve been through everything together," Lawson said.  When she had a concussion playing basketball, “I was in here for a good two weeks.”

She credits Kikugawa’s care for finally getting her back in the game.