INDIANAPOLIS — Larry Roziers says he’s heard many educators give speeches where they talk about loving their students-athletes and rallying behind them and developing the whole child.
“But then you have to ask yourself, ‘What are we doing to protect them, to protect their well-being, to protect their futures?’ ” he says.
Roziers’ answer was to become a staunch advocate for athletic trainers in the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville. After gathering data from a pilot program that introduced athletic trainers to the district’s high schools, Roziers helped create a program in which all 17 schools will have full-time athletic trainers by the year 2020 that will be paid for by the school district. The cost is $1.7 million annually.
The district currently has five full-time trainers who are paid by community partners; five more will be added next year that the district will pay for.
For his work, Roziers was honored Tuesday with a Youth Sports Safety Ambassador Award from the National Athletic Trainers Association. Pop Warner Little Scholars also received an Ambassador award. The awards were presented at the eighth annual Youth Sports Safety Summit.
“At the end of the day, we have to have experts on the field as coaches and medical experts on the field that take care of our children. That’s the bottom line,” said Roziers, now assistant superintendent for family and community engagement and a former coach, athletic director and principal.
The awards are given to those who provide youth safety protocols that set a precedent or model for others to follow or to those who advance youth sports safety by providing medical care, developing policy or resources, according to a news release.
Roziers was honored for being “ an advocate for safety and understanding the importance of having the right personnel in place,” NATA president Scott Sailor said in making the announcement.
Given the logistics of multiple sports playing at the same time, Roziers said the district is looking at various scenarios where graduate students at Jacksonville University or other community partners can help provide support.
“Everybody is committed to insuring that our children are taken care of,” Roziers said. “But on Friday nights when our boys are out there playing football, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays when our girls are playing basketball or volleyball or flag football, are we really taking care of them? If we don’t have a certified medical staff there with them with AED in hand, then we’re not taking care of them. That’s the reality.”
Pop Warner was awarded for its “continued commitment to youth safety,” Sailor said. He cited the first national youth sports concussion policy that prevents an athlete removed from play to return before be evaluated by a medical professional trained in concussion evaluation and management. The organization also prevents head-on blocking or tackling drills in which players line up more than 3 yards apart, its involvement in USA Football’s Heads Up Program, its decision to eliminate kickoffs and reduced player contact to 25 percent of practice time.
As a national organization with more than 40,000 volunteer coaches and administrators and 325,000 participants in football, cheer and dance, the challenge is getting everyone to buy in.
“We need to show the benefit at the local level,” Jon Butler, the executive director for Pop Warner. “This year when we got rid of kickoffs at the three youngest levels and we had a couple of leagues threaten to leave. Are you thinking as a football coach or thinking as a parent of a 10-year-old who could potentially be injured? … (We put it into terms of) here’s what it does for you, not what it does for us at the national office.”
Butler said participation has been relatively flat for the last few years but he expects a slight uptick this year.
“One of the issues for us is Pop Warner is used like the generic youth football. It’s like using the name Kleenex for tissues,” he said. “I think there are a lot of parents in this country whose children play youth football and they assume it’s Pop Warner but it’s not. We want to spread the word about what we’re doing. There’s a lot of good stuff happening.”
Pop Warner also will be working with USA Football on a recently announced pilot program in several leagues. The new rules, which will be evaluated and potentially rolled out nationally, include cutting the number of players on the field for each team from 11 to seven, smaller fields, elimination of kickoffs and punts and banning the three-point stance.
Butler said a league in Florida has been identified as a participant and meetings will be ongoing at the end of the month.
“Both USA Football and Pop Warner wanted to keep it very small, very controlled to see what goes on,” Butler said. “(It was suggested) that this was a knee-jerk reaction. It’s not at all. The game has evolved. I don’t know how you’re going to be able to find out unless you try things.”