Program Boosts Sports Safety

SportsSara Valenti is not a coach, athlete or even a fan of any one particular sporting event, but she is very much a part of Durant High School’s athletic program. May it be football, soccer, basketball or any other fall, winter or spring program, she can be seen at the sideline interacting with the players before, during and after the games.
Valenti, whose credentials include a master’s degree from Southeast Missouri State University as well as a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of South Florida (USF) in athletic training, is a USF full-time certified athletic trainer (CAT) deployed in one of 10 high schools across Hillsborough County. Licensed by the state of Florida to practice athletic training, all of the trainers are involved with laying a foundation for a statewide initiative in connection with raising the standard of care for students competing in team sports.
Under the direction of USF’s Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma Institute (SMART), Valenti and a number of other certified trainers are helping transform sports safety through integrated education, research and community outreach.
“It is very rewarding, and I am glad to be part of this program as it provides athletes with first responders who can be available and are qualified to asses injuries as soon as they occur on the court or out on the football or soccer field,” said Valenti.
Valenti explained that parents often take their children to a doctor after an injury unnecessarily. At the same time, some injuries are ignored because parents are not sure if it merits a doctor visit.
“This is an area we can help as well. Certified athletic trainers can refer players to doctors or save the parents the trouble of unnecessary doctor visits,” said Valenti.
SMART was established in 2006 as a Florida state-sponsored, interdisciplinary program focusing on preventing needless injuries on the field. According to SMART Executive Director Jeff Konin, more than 3.5 million U.S. children under the age of 15 are treated for sports-related injuries each year. “More than half of those injuries happen at practice,” Konin said.
One of the most common injuries which disproportionately affects female athletes is a ruptured or torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). SMART began to track the incidence of ACLs and other sports-related injuries in high schools.
Another important aspect of the program is to identify areas that threaten the safety of athletes and do what it takes to make a difference. Professor and chair of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at USF, Robert Pedowitz, said that through the computerized injury surveillance program, SMART has the ability to measure the impact of preventive programs, such as its Prevent Injury, Enhancement Performance (PIEP), on the student athletes.
But that is not all for SMART. Its interdisciplinary faculty includes orthopedists, primary care physicians, public health professionals, physical therapists and trainers. In addition to providing trainers to schools, SMART has partnered with school districts, youth programs, youth sports leagues and athletic training associations to teach and train a sports safety course to coaches, physical education teachers and health teachers across west Central Florida. SMART has already been nationally recognized for its research on the early detection of heat illness in athletes.
“I hope that this program will continue and legislation will approve that the supporting of SMART is in the best interest of all athletes as well as the parents,” said Valenti.
For more information, coaches, parents of students or others interested in SMART can contact Konin at 369-9625.