EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings athletic training staff was recently recognized for the role it has played in expanding access to certified athletic trainers for athletes at Minneapolis and St. Paul public high schools.
The Minnesota Athletic Trainers' Association presented the Vikings staff of certified athletic trainers with the Sports Medicine Enhancement Award for 2016 during the MATA Annual Meeting and Clinical Symposium.
In a letter to Vikings Director of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman, MATA Honors and Awards Chair Ronda Peterson, ATC, wrote, "The collaborative efforts given to athletic training and the State of Minnesota in your quest to provide athletic training coverage to local school districts have been nothing less than extraordinary."
Sugarman's staff — Coordinator of Rehabilitation/Assistant Athletic Trainer Tom Hunkele and assistant athletic trainers Rob Roche, Matt Duhamel and Albert Padilla — helped launch a grant program in 2014 to cover hundreds of football players in 13 high schools by providing certified athletic trainers at each school for practices and games each week.
"This is something that's near and dear to my heart, so when I saw the opportunity from the NFL Foundation and the grant initiative of $25,000 and its intent, it said you can ask your club to match that grant money," Sugarman said last week during a conference call with media members. "We approached the Wilf family, and they were very gracious and open. There was no hesitation at all for them to match that $25,000, so we had $50,000 in 2014 and 2015 to use for this grant initiative."
Sugarman said the grant allowed for continuity of care, a factor important to treating Vikings players and other athletes, to be established at each school.
After laying a foundation that included providing extra supplies to establish the rooms in 2014, the re-issue of the grant allowed an increase of more than 1,260 coverage hours. A physician was on the sidelines for 134 football games (18 ninth grade, 24 10th grade, 38 junior varsity and 54 varsity), providing coverage to approximately 900 athletes.
The extra attention led to a 45-percent increase in the number of injuries reported (76 in 2014 to 139 in 2015) — and treated — Sugarman said.
"We saw that as a good thing because now the kids are actually reporting their injuries," Sugarman said. "In the past, what we were told was that a kid would get hurt and wouldn't be able to practice or play, and you'd never see the kid again because they really weren't receiving care. There was nowhere to get the help they needed. Now, this past year, a kid becomes injured, they get evaluated, they can see a physician, they get treated by an athletic trainer, they get rehabbed and they're back on the field, helping their team."
The program led to the establishment of baseline ImPACT testing to help concussion evaluation and management. There were 34 concussions diagnosed in 2014 and 40 in 2015, which Sugarman said is a result of an improved system for reporting and treatment.
"They're being reported, but they're also being treated properly," Sugarman said. "With concussions, you want to make sure these kids follow a protocol, see a physician, are cleared when they are safe to be cleared and not having someone that's not educated on the topic guessing when these kids might be pushed back into participation."
After two years of establishment of care, the goal is for the program to become sustained in Minneapolis and St. Paul and expand service to additional schools.
"St. Paul hadn't had an athletic trainer in 50 years in any of their games," Sugarman said. "Now that they've had two years of consistent care, hopefully they feel it's mandatory, and that's the whole design of this program.
"We still want to partner with Minneapolis and St. Paul, and we're also going to look for some new schools," Sugarman added. "This program is supposed to be about sustainability and encourage these schools and school districts to see what an athletic trainer is, understand what the care is, understand the benefit and hopefully budget for it in the future, and then we can move on to some other schools that don't have athletic trainers and cover the whole state over time."