The District's medical care coverage for its 13 public high schools can become a national model over the next decade, according to Frank Walters, the program's new coordinator.

One year ago, the District's Interhigh League faced cancellation of the remainder of its athletic schedule because it was struggling to meet court-ordered standards for medical coverage at events.

Since then, more than $500,000 has been allocated in the school budget to hire a certified athletic trainer for each of the system's 13 high schools, and a coordinator for the trainers program, to subcontract for medical personnel where outside coverage is needed and for supplies and equipment.

In December, the first three trainers started work at Coolidge, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt high schools. The Interhigh has tried to coordinate playing several junior high and high school events at one site in succession to ensure that a trainer will be available.

Walters, 36, an assistant professor in athletic training courses at Texas A&M for the past seven years, will take over his new position on Monday, although he has spent much of the past month preparing for what he calls "a unique challenge."

"There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but I think {the District} is doing something that many places will eventually do before the end of the decade," said Walters. "This is a large task, but not only will the city be watching us, but the eyes of the NATA {National Athletic Trainers Association} will be on this program also."

The first priorities for Walters are to find trainers for the 10 schools that do not have them and to help them set up well-equipped training rooms in the schools. But both he and Interhigh Athletic Director Sam Jones said recruiting trainers in the middle of the school year is difficult because many qualified candidates are tied down by school-year contracts.

Although more than three dozen events in various sports were canceled or postponed last season because of a lack of medical coverage, none has been postponed this year. Jones has juggled volunteer and contract doctors, nurses and paramedics to meet levels of coverage specified by revised legislation passed by the D.C. Council last summer.

Walters said many of his colleagues questioned why he left his position as one of the nation's preeminent teachers of athletic trainers, but he said the potential offered by the District's ambitions, and the financial commitment made to fund the program, could allow him to set up a program surpassing those in Texas and Fairfax County, two of the nation's most praised.

One advantage is that trainers hired by the District, at base salaries of $23,000 and expected minimums of $29,000 with overtime and credited previous experience, do not also have to teach classes, as they do in Fairfax. Walters says Texas may have the nation's best high school trainers program, but only the state's biggest schools have trainers.

Walters has done enough homework to know that the District's 13 high schools have widely varied problems and require individual design.

"I told Sam this is like being a diamond cutter," Walters said. "You can split this into beautiful gems or turn it into dust. I hope we have the opportunity to make it into 13 beautiful gems."

Gems hardly are what the trainers already on duty found at their schools.

"We have to go to the cafeteria to get ice before games," said Rachelle Dunmire, 23, who is assigned to Coolidge.

"The good part was that I have plenty of space," said Susan Hasan, 25, the trainer at Theodore Roosevelt. "It is accessible easily for boys and girls and has a whirlpool. But we had no supplies and we only had one case of tape."

Supplies have been ordered, as well as equipment such as tables and ice machines. The trainers have been told that most necessary items will be acquired.

"I think what has been done is very good. We will hope it continues to move forward," said Rod Boggs of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, a group that sued the District in September 1989, seeking mandatory health services for the District's athletes.

The trainers have found quick acceptance in the schools.

"Everyone from the cooks to the coaches have been helpful," said Dunmire. "For the coaches, I think our presence takes the pressure off of them having to decide whether someone should be playing. In some cases, they might be reluctant to play someone {who appears hurt} when all they need is their ankle taped differently."

Art Linder, athletic director at Theodore Roosevelt, is pleased his school was one of the first to get a trainer under the new program.

"A trainer helps keep the assistants and coaches in the game because they do not have to attend an injured player," Linder said. "Sometimes we fail to listen to kids in the heat of a game. It is not an easy situation when someone gets hurt. But now we have someone who can step in and take care of things."

Boggs said Parents United hopes trainers are hired as quickly as possible at all the high schools, but the group will be patient.

"Since we have had coverage at events, we don't want to pressure them just to hire people," said Boggs. "We want them to make sure they hire good people because this will affect us for a long time."