An athletic trainer attends to an injured football player. (Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
An athletic trainer attends to an injured football player. UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute is overseeing a national pilot program intended to encourage the use of athletic trainers in public high school football programs across the country. (Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute is overseeing a national pilot program intended to encourage the use of athletic trainers in public high school football programs across the country.

The program is sponsored by the NFL Foundation, Gatorade, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS), and the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI).

The NFL Foundation is awarding up to 150 grants to high schools in four pilot states – Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Oregon. The $35,000 grants will be awarded over a three-year period to support an athletic training program. The number of grants issued will be at the discretion of an appointed review panel.

The Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut’s main campus in Storrs is overseeing the program and will conduct research to assess the its impact and the effect athletic trainers have on student athlete health outcomes.

Named after a former Minnesota Viking professional football player who died from exertional heatstroke in 2001, the KSI is dedicated to conducting research, education, advocacy, and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety, and prevent the sudden death of athletes, soldiers, and laborers.

“The massive responsibility of keeping many hundreds of athletes safe at a particular high school should never be the responsibility of a sport coach or the athletic director, they have no training to properly handle this task,” says KSI Chief Executive Officer Douglas Casa. “We are very proud to partner with this grant program that has a primary goal of increasing the number of schools serviced by an athletic trainer and to enhance the amount of medical care for those that already have some.”

An athletic trainer is a licensed medical professional who has specific expertise in preventing, recognizing, treating and rehabilitating athletic injuries. However, nearly two-thirds of high schools across the country lack a full-time athletic trainer and almost 30 percent of high schools do not have any athletic trainer at all.

“The NFL is committed to enhancing the safety of football at all levels,” says NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We are proud of the important work that athletic trainers do on the sidelines and in training facilities nationwide. We look forward to testing this pilot program as part of our effort to increase access to athletic trainers in local communities and improve sports safety for many more young athletes.”

The pilot program builds on the NFL Foundation’s athletic trainer grant program established two years ago to help NFL teams increase access to athletic trainers in their communities. To date, 20 NFL clubs have utilized these grants to support local schools and leagues.

“The NFL Foundation is proud that this athletic trainer pilot program, one that originally developed at the club level, is expanding to serve more young athletes,” says NFL Foundation Chairman Charlotte Jones Anderson. “NFL teams have long seen the value of athletic trainers’ knowledge and experience when it comes to health and safety and this program will help provide that same expertise at the high school level.”

Says Scott Sailor, NATA president: “The National Athletic Trainers’ Association is committed to enhancing the quality of health care that young athletes receive through access to athletic trainers. Together, we can ensure best practices are put in place in underserved schools to reduce the risk of injury and make sports safer for all communities.”

Jeff Kearney, head of Gatorade sports marketing, said the company was excited to build on the success of its 2015 efforts.

“For more than 50 years, we’ve been committed to athletes’ safety, performance, and success – and based on this experience – we know how important athletic trainers are to our mission,” Kearney says. “This program is an important part of our overall commitment to helping ensure the safety of the more than eight million high school athletes in the U.S.”

Says Rick Burkholder, PFATS president and head athletic trainer of the Kansas City Chiefs: “The Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society is proud to partner with the NFL Foundation, NATA, and Gatorade to increase the number of athletic trainers available to high school students across the country.