Kalani Simpson

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Schools find trainers
in short supply

NOW that was close.

On Thursday, Damien signed up an athletic trainer for this sports season, just in time for last night's first preseason football game.

There's close and then there's CLOSE.

The plan hadn't been to wait this long. But this last-second save illustrates two things.

"Trainers are in such short supply," Damien president Br. Gregory O'Donnell said. "It's a seller's market."

Well, it could be. But then, you probably couldn't find an athletic trainer who got into the profession for the money.

The problem is, these days, you'd have a tough time finding an athletic trainer, period, if you didn't have one already locked in.

And that's how Damien cut it so close. Months ago it was informed that the clinic it worked with to provide athletic training for its sports teams was almost doubling its fee. That's a tough increase to swallow, these days. Or any day.

But this isn't something you skimp on, either. So the Monarch football coaching staff, en masse, offered to forgo all salaries in order to pay for it.

"And they meant it," O'Donnell said.

But, no, no, no. O'Donnell assured his coaches the school would come up with the money somehow. They'd bite the bullet. But then months had gone by, and O'Donnell went on vacation, and Damien thought things were in motion, but, as can happen when trying to conduct school business in the summertime, somewhere, the wires crossed. And by the time communication between school and clinic was solid again the trainers previously with Damien had been allocated somewhere else.

"All of a sudden," O'Donnell said, "we're sitting there with nothing."

That was not good news, not with the season closing in. Not with practice already starting.

Not with trainers in such short supply.

"We have had people filling in," O'Donnell said. "Friends and others, in the meantime."

The problem is ... well, let's just let O'Donnell say it: "The number of people available is less than the number of spots available."

And so it is that you can be without a trainer two days before the game.

"We're not the norm," agreed Punahou trainer Beth Young, a member of the Hawaii Athletic Trainers' Association executive committee. "Nationally, it's the other way -- a lot more athletic trainers than jobs."

But Hawaii is the only state with certified athletic trainers at every public high school -- "and now some schools require two," Young said. With most, if not every, private school also following suit.

Let's just say that unemployment is low.

Add to that the fact that the national certification protocol and standards have recently changed, meaning many colleges and universities across the country have dropped their undergraduate programs ... including UH.

So much for new blood coming in.

With all these trends in the profession these past few years, "You can understand how some schools are scrambling," Young said.

A few Interscholastic League of Honolulu schools -- and Punahou is one -- have staff trainers. Others have looked at adding the position -- then also looked at insurance, benefits, budget, supplies -- and decided to stick with an outside provider, no matter the cost.

And cost -- thanks in part to raises given to Department of Education public-school trainers -- is rising. Damien isn't the only ILH program that has had challenges in either paying to keep its provider or in hunting for a new one.

Reid Elam of Elam Sports Oahu, who signed on with Damien in time for last night's game, said his company has also started working with a few other new clients this school year.

It seems that maybe he's been a new alternative -- a last-second answer, in at least one case -- in this scenario.

"I don't know what to say," he joked, laughing, "that people call us last."

Still, he'll take it, happily. He's excited. His trainers (and he said he's even brought a couple from the mainland) get to work with athletes, and that's what they got into the business to do.

"All this happened in the last two or three days," Elam said. Damien cut it close but got it done.


Of course, Damien is only the latest example. This trend of supply and demand may not be ending anytime soon.

"The outer islands have been hurting a lot more than Oahu," Young said. If you're a trainer, you don't have to work where you don't want to work.

These days finding an athletic trainer for your team might be easier said than done.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

E-mail to Sports Desk


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