Teen’s death sparks call for athletic trainers at Polk Co. schools

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) – A Winter Haven athletic trainer wants every high school in Polk County to have an athletic trainer on site following the death of a 14-year old Hillsborough County boy this month.

Lloyd Knudson started an online petition to inform people about the importance of athletic trainers and urge schools to hire them to treat and monitor student-athletes.

Tragedy at Middleton High School called him to action.

“It was kind of one of those moments when it came over the news and I said ‘Oh no, not again’,” he said.

Hezekiah Walters died after he collapsed at football practice on June 11 in Tampa.

His body temperature was 102 degrees at the hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to an “extremely preliminary” report from the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Department.

“If an athletic trainer was there, maybe that made a difference,” said Knudson.

Knudson, an athletic trainer himself, is petitioning Polk County schools to have an athletic trainer at every high school.

Medical personnel attend games but, Knudson says, 62% of sports injuries occur at practice.

“The biggest thing is medical attention, that immediate medical attention, especially in those first few minutes or seconds, that are so precious,” said Knudson.

Polk County Public Schools is in the process of buying cold water immersion tubs (ice baths), a new requirement for outdoor athletics in the coming school year, according to a statement from the district.

That process began in March.

“In addition, we are still exploring options and funding sources that would make it possible for us to have athletic trainers available for our sports programs,” wrote Kyle Kennedy, with Polk County Public Schools.

Cost estimates range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to hire athletic trainers at the 18 public high schools in the county.

“I’m certainly supportive of the concept. I would love to have that. It’s just almost entirely a question of how do we logistically make it work,” said Billy Townsend, a Polk County Public Schools board member.

Knudson has been in contact with the athletic director at Polk County schools, Dan Talbot, who was unavailable for an interview Wednesday.

“The median wage for athletic trainers in the state of Florida, with 18 high schools, I want to say it’s going to be about $800,000. But that’s just if they pay for it by themselves,” said Knudson. “We’re looking into others to split the difference and find ways to kind of make that happen without them funding the whole thing.”

“Until our state decides to take the human qualities of education seriously, we’re going to have to be left with these kinds of Sophie’s choices: What do we fund? What do we not fund? Who do we endanger?  Who do we not?” asked Townsend.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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