The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Thursday, June 5, 1997

The health and safety
of our kids are crucial

DON'T let them ruin this.

The need for nationally certified athletic trainers at each high school in Hawaii is so urgent that when legislation finally passed last month, we figured no one with a shred of decency would tamper with the money.

It's hard to imagine anyone being so callous about such a critical issue.

Can anyone tell me that kids don't deserve quick access to specialists who can diagnose their injuries on the spot and take proper steps to prevent paralysis or even death?

And, hey, is there anyone who can't figure out how naked the state has left itself to lawsuits for so many years without certified trainers in place? Get real.

But I detected last night that not everyone is thoroughly convinced that high schools have the right to protect their student-athletes, or that low-paid, overworked coaches should be spared the extra ulcer of taking on medical decisions they're not qualified to make.

My phone conversation yesterday with Dr. Herman Aizawa, superintendent of schools, convinced me he is anything but passionately committed to posting trainers in the schools.

That is inexcusable.

THERE can be nothing more important than the health and safety, indeed, life and death, of kids engaging in activities that are considered integral to the state's educational structure.

We fund kids' participation in athletics because all educators agree that students cannot be cast into society as well-rounded citizens until they've been exposed to sports.

With this in mind, doesn't it seem logical that the state has an obligation to ensure that these kids feel reasonably safe in DOE-sponsored athletics?

You bet it does.

So, I'm puzzled and annoyed by the tenor of the brief and strained conversation I had with Aizawa on the subject.

The Department of Education budget, which contains the trainers' bucks, is in the governor's hands right now. After it is signed, Aizawa will have the right to rearrange priorities.

"We need to look at all things in perspective," he said, and pointed out that "everything is up in the air right now."

Aizawa implied that Cayetano could be the bad guy in this case. "The governor could put restrictions on the budget -- it all depends on that."

I asked him if, as the head of DOE, he was assuming any responsibility for the fate of the trainers' provision, and he replied, "Wrong question. Thank you. Goodbye. (click...)."

Just then I thought about the many ADs, principals and Hawaii Athletic Trainers Association members who have called me and approached me in recent weeks to say how excited they are that -- finally -- the state has its priorities straight.

Finally, for the bargain-basement salary of $32,000 per trainer, each public high school will have a guardian angel for its student-athletes. The National Athletic Trainers Association is already heaping accolades on Hawaii for becoming the first state in the nation to do this.

Sen. Rod Tam revived the trainers' issue when it was a flatliner in committee this past session. He surprised me by sticking with it and seeing it through. After so many years of begging, the ADs finally found a friend.

Now Tam is calling on everyone to tell Aizawa he shouldn't even think of altering the trainers' provision. It's taken too many years to get to this point.

And I can tell you one thing, people in Hawaii hold a deep affection for their prep athletes.

Expect popular rage against a heartless move against the interests of the kids.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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