Aaron Kilfoyle considers athletic trainers the lifeblood of student sports.
Athletic trainers are some of the only people on the field who have CPR and other emergency training, which is required by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer, a national certification organization.
They are among the first faculty members student-athletes go to when they have an injury. Students look to them for workout and healing advice. Often they bear the burden of telling students they have to sit a game out or sit out the rest of the season.
And yet, in several schools around the Pacific Northwest, athletic trainers are difficult to find.
That’s why Kilfoyle took part in the creation of a conference medical group in the Northwest Athletic Conference.
“There are a few colleges in the conference that don’t have athletic trainers, and those athletes don’t have medical services they deserve to have,” Kilfoyle said. “There is also this kind of blasé attitude toward sports medicine in general within the conference that’s gotten better because of the pandemic.”
Part of Kilfoyle’s role in the newly found medical conference group was to take on an unprecedented challenge – how to create athletic policies that matched the severity of a global pandemic.
In early June, the Northwest Athletic Conference recognized Kilfoyle with the Dutch Triebwasser Outstanding College Administrator Award, in part for his work on pandemic policy.
The NWAC administrator award usually goes to athletic directors. According to the NWAC awards archive, Kilfoyle is the first and only athletic trainer to receive this admin award.
“He was essentially the point person on constructing our COVID protocols as a school as well as our NWAC,” CCS Athletic Director Jim Fitzgerald said.
The result was a 45-page manual, which Fitzgerald said is a “living document” because of its ongoing impact on schools in the NWAC.
Soon after its creation, the Washington State Department of Health approved the manual, thus approving some in-person sports for the community college.
The policies outlined specific stages to reopening that mirrored the statewide guidelines being rolled out at the time. It was thorough and took lots of research, Fitzgerald said.
“It took a lot of input from a lot of people, but Aaron was essentially the bus driver,” Fitzgerald said. “It went through the executive board within the conference. It was shared by all the school presidents. They took one look at it and said, ‘Basically we’re going to let you compete because of how detailed these policies are.’ ”
Then the Oregon and Idaho health departments approved the manual. Soon, Kilfoyle was getting calls from school presidents across the conference who wanted his advice about how to safely reopen sports.
As far as how he felt about the award, Kilfoyle said he would rather focus on how to increase availability of resources to schools without athletic trainers.
“I mean, I’m humbled by it,” he said. “But I don’t feel I deserve this award alone. It needs to be shared with my peers. … There’s a lot more that needs to be done, and I know that my chapter in this leadership role is not done yet.”
He started to consider conducting a study on whether student-athletes would remain at a school if they did not have an athletic trainer.
Kilfoyle’s hypothesis? Definitely not.
“If I was not here, and an athlete who sprained his ankle on the court went to see a doctor, that doctor would probably sign them up for physical therapy. What’s the cost going to be on the family of that student?” he said. “Where is, what’s the cost of an athletic trainer being here the entire year providing that care in-house, for free, to the student? We need to do a much better job of showing the value we have.”
Kilfoyle is pursuing his doctorate in sports medicine at Rocky Mountain University, though he already did the grueling schoolwork that comes with athletic training licensing.
At the state level, getting an athletic training license includes completing a training program at one of three approved institutions. It also means spending a minimum of 1,500 practical hours at an internship, and it means becoming a near-expert in kinesiology, biology, anatomy and biomechanics.
This does not account for individual schools that may require more experience or even a master’s degree.
“We provide all of those skills, right, we’re the first ones on the scene providing emergency care,” Kilfoyle said, “or we may be evaluating someone who’s been hurting for three weeks. This pandemic really highlighted the importance of having somebody there.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct certification standards for athletic trainers in the Northwest Athletic Conference.
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