We were very sorry to hear that Jessica Markbreiter has left her position as certified athletic trainer for Half Moon Bay High School and the Cabrillo Unified School District. She was a respected presence at most Cougar athletic events and treated countless injuries over the last four years. While she was unique in many ways, the excellent medical attention Cougar athletes enjoyed over her tenure shouldn’t be unusual. We were glad to hear last week that school administrators agreed to fund the position despite very trying financial times.

Casual fans might be surprised to learn that there is no such trainer at most high school athletic events in San Mateo County. That is true even for relatively dangerous sports like football. Currently, only two of the county’s high school districts — Sequoia and San Mateo — employ trainers. Luckily, opposing teams also benefit from that investment when their players are injured in games attended by those school trainers. But high school athletes shouldn’t have to rely on luck. In our view, public schools can’t afford to play at all if they can’t afford best practices to keep young players as safe as possible. And we’re not alone. A recent San Mateo County civil grand jury report reiterated a 2015 recommendation that all local school districts provide a certified athletic trainer at all high-risk sporting events.

There are people with some training ready to help at most local high school sporting events — including at Half Moon Bay High School football games, which started again last week. But even when emergency medical technicians are on hand, they rarely have the knowledge available to modern athletic trainers. Certified athletic trainers don’t just respond after injury; they take proactive steps to make sure student-athletes stretch properly, that their joints are taped, that they know how to avoid injury. They are recognized as allied health  care professionals by the American Medical Association and can deal with heat stroke, spinal injuries, asthma and more.

Significantly, certified athletic trainers are as important as football helmets in efforts to avoid debilitating effects of concussions, which we now know can last a lifetime unless they are handled correctly. Data from Michigan high schools shows that there were 41 head injuries for every 1,000 football players in schools there. 

That suggests that at least one Cougar football player could suffer a head injury this season and that is one too many when there is no qualified professional on the sideline. Markbreiter made it her business to collect baseline data that would prove invaluable to doctors in the event of a concussion. (By the way, concussion isn’t just a football problem. The Michigan data points to significant rates of concussion in girls sports, too, like soccer, basketball and cheerleading.)

These are tough times for the Cabrillo Unified School District, which will be making very painful budget cuts in the weeks and months to come. Be that as it may, the athletic trainer is a necessary protection for young student-athletes. 

Perhaps, going forward, the answer lies in a cooperative agreement with other schools, or more private funding through the booster club or maybe even from a grant provided by a health care concern.

We wish Markbreiter well. She made a big difference in her time on the coast. 

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