One year ago, the District's Interhigh football league suffered through a chaotic season beset by problems of trying to get proper medical personnel at games.
As practice for the 1990 season opened yesterday, the District is preparing to put in place a program potentially a model for medical care of high school athletes, the result of a lawsuit, emergency City Council legislation and a sharply increased budget.
As the school year approaches, the Interhigh is preparing to hire certified athletic trainers for each of the city's 13 public high schools. Despite a swirl of budget cuts in many areas, $500,000 has remained available for this year to hire the full-time trainers, a program coordinator and supplies.
A lawsuit brought last year by Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools inspired legislation that dictates degrees of medical coverage for each sport. The bill requires a doctor be present before a high school football game hosted by an Interhigh school can start.
Trainers will also be available at games, will be present for practices and will start student trainer programs at the schools. For some sports, trainers will be the only medical personnel present at interscholastic events.
Last year, before the suit went to D.C. Superior Court, several football games were played without medical personnel present. Later, some games were held up until personnel arrived. During the year, games in several sports were either postponed or canceled when the District could not meet coverage dictated in a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Nan R. Huhn.
Sam Jones, who was named Interhigh athletic director last winter, said he has received a quick and vast response from recent advertisements for trainers and a program coordinator. He said numerous inquiries have come from trainers currently employed by Fairfax County, one of the few jurisdictions in the nation to have a trainer at every high school.
"We are getting an idea a lot of people may want to transfer from Northern Virginia schools because at those schools, the trainers also have to teach. We know that there has been a lot of burnout among their trainers," said Jones. "Our trainers will not have to do that. They will only have to be concerned with their duties as trainers."
Parents United has been pleased with the progress.
"The court has spoken, the legislature has spoken and Sam has made a good effort," said Rod Boggs of Parents United. "Now the issue is to make sure they hire good people."
Jones, an NBA Hall-of-Famer, said hiring staff is only part of the program he is trying to design.
"We are trying to make this an A-1 program and make sure every trainer will have proper space to work in," he said. "We are hoping to update equipment and get things like whirlpools in those spaces."
In addition to helping ensure safety, the trainers should ease the load for Interhigh coaches.
"The coaches will love the trainers," said Jones. "It will give them time to do other things -- like meeting with their assistants instead of worrying about making sure every ankle is taped."
H.D. Woodson Coach Bob Headen, who has won eight Interhigh division titles and five league championships, said coaches were told the school system would try to have trainers in place by September. Like most coaches, he is eager to have a trainer at his school.
"We have never really had any football problems at this school with doctors," he said. "But they said we will have a trainer soon and I hope we do. It would be nice to have."
The Interhigh opened practice yesterday, as it has done the past several years, earlier than all other public and private schools. Most Washington area jurisdictions do not allow teams to practice before Aug. 15.