The play started innocently enough. The Dunedin quarterback turned and tossed the ball to the Falcons running back who took off around the end of his blockers. Waiting for him was then-sophomore Taj Taylor. The Largo Packer dove for the ball carrier’s legs and – that is all Taj remembers.
He was knocked unconscious by a knee to the head. He was motionless on the field for around 10 minutes. Trainers, coaches and his mom rushed to this side. It took longer than usual to get an ambulance to his side because of gates and a wet field.
“You never know. I was a one in a million kid that had that happen to (him) so it could happen any day at any time,” said Taylor. “It could happen right here (at practice) but at a game where there are way more people and way more players it’d definitely be safe to have them out there.”
Ambulances are not stationed at high school football games in Pinellas County and the data shows that they are not really needed there. An EMS report done over the past three seasons shows that less than four percent of high school football games required an athlete to be transported by an ambulance and less than one percent of those injuries was considered time-sensitive.
“You can’t be too safe so I think it’s a good idea to have an ambulance on the spot, especially at a varsity football game,” said former Largo head coach Rick Rodriguez.
“We do what’s called Priority Posting,” said Sunstar Paramedics spokeswoman Charlene Cobb. “Our dispatch center has years worth of data that determines where the highest call volume is going to be hour by hour.”
The window of time for a varsity football game is roughly between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on each Friday during the fall. Those are peak days and times for Sunstar, that runs 180,000 calls a year and 130,000 transports per year in Pinellas. An average day, Sunstar runs around 400 ambulance transports, which breaks down to 16.7 per hour.
The volume of accidents elsewhere around town is the main reason emergency vehicles don’t sit at stadiums during games. But, the Pinellas County athletic director is trying to bend the ears of those in charge of vehicle positioning.
“Safety is the number one priority,” said Nick Grasso. “It’s not ‘win at all costs’ and that’s the culture that we have developed within Pinellas County schools.”
Grasso lobbied city mayors in Pinellas three weeks before school began to try and get them to work with their emergency vehicle services to get them to dispatch from fields this fall. Grasso hopes that would add a second layer of security to his already existing model for safety – his Athletic Trainers Program.
“They are the take-charge folks that are on the sidelines that we put much faith and confidence in,” he said.
“Those athletic trainers are trained in BLS, Basic Life Support,” said Cobb. “They are able to take care of the patient and they are treating them until the time that we arrive.”
Pinellas County hires athletic trainers for every game and every practice to be the first responders in serious injury situations, like Taylor’s. The county utilizes the trainers program five to six days a week. Most injuries will happen at the practice field rather than the short window of time during a game.
Still having an ambulance closer to the action would be a welcome change for Taylor.
“(It’s) one night of the whole week,” he said. “Might as well be out there. I know there are other things going on, probably have other emergencies, but I’m sure they have enough people to actually be out there.”
Grasso expects a decision on his proposal to the mayors before the first kickoff of the season. The Largo Packers’ first home game is Aug. 29 against Northeast.