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Hillsborough County Putting Athletic Trainers In All High Schools After Football Death

Aug 22, 2019

All 27 Hillsborough County high schools will soon have an athletic trainer on campus.

The school board's decision on Tuesday to spend $270,000 for the program comes two months after an incoming freshman football player at Middleton High in Tampa died after taking part in conditioning drills.

Hezekiah Walters was 14 years old when he collapsed 30 to 40 minutes into the June 11 exercises. He was later pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Hillsborough Schools Athletic Director Lanness Robinson warned school board members that the program's partnership with three area health providers will not cover all practices, games and events.

“It is important to know that one athletic trainer on the school site can't be at every place,” Robinson told school board members. “That has to be said. So with that being said, we're going to obviously work with the athletic trainers to schedule which events they are at, and that will be done with the [assistant principals] at each of the high schools. But, again, having the most coverage, the best coverage, and without the partners that we have, we wouldn't be able to do it.”

Board member Steve Cona said it is just the beginning.

“This is a start, in my opinion,” Cona said. “I think it's great. I think we have room to grow this program, to make sure that we have coverage all the time for all sports. We'll get to that as we get to it.”

The program is a partnership with University of South Florida SMART Institute, Select Physical Therapy, and PT Solutions Holdings. The three organizations will combine to provide a certified athletic trainer year round in each of the county’s high schools. Only about half of them now has a full-time trainer on campus.

An investigation into Walter’s death found incomplete records for his physicals and athletics clearance forms. School board member Lynn Gray, a former teacher and long-distance-running coach, unsuccessfully asked her colleagues to consider spending another $170,000 for a compliance officer who would be responsible for ensuring that all student-athlete physicals and clearances are on file.

“If we want to be safe, if our initiative truly is to keep children safe …  why can't we make this not a good addition, why not make it a great protection system?” Gray said.