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Project 17 adds athletic trainers to Duval schools

A trainer checks Maurice Jones-Drew's knee during a limited practice before the Jags' game against the Colts.
A trainer checks Maurice Jones-Drew's knee during a limited practice before the Jags' game against the Colts.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County public school district is partnering with several agencies to bring full-time athletic trainers to its schools.

Those trainers will bring peace of mind for parents, who want their student-athletes to be safe in the classroom and on the field.

"Nazah had an experience where she did the high jump and she actually fell off the mat and had a concussion," Orain Reddick said of his daughter, a Raines High School student-athlete. "Of course, they had a lot of coaches there, but I don't know if there were a lot of medical or qualified people to help her at the time."

Nazah is back on the track after recovering from her concussion, but every story hasn't had the same ending. 

In 2009, 18-year-old Phillip Jackson collapsed during a basketball game at Sandalwood High School. He suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and died. At that time, there were no automated external defibrillators at the school.

Now, all Duval County public high schools have at least three AEDs on campus.

But a new program called Project 17, which was announced at EverBank Field on Thursday, goes a step further toward keeping students safe and healthy.

The program aims to prevent major injuries and offer quicker treatment for students by staffing Duval County public schools with full-time athletic trainers.

Several agencies, including the Jaguars and the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program, are teaming with the school district to provide the funding and training needed for those trainers.

Starting next year, Ribault, Raines, Jackson, Baldwin and Englewood high schools will be the first five to have full-time trainers on staff. They currently have only part-time trainers available, which cost $2,500 per school to come in for games.

"Oftentimes we do not have consistency with the part-time trainer at those five schools and we have to rely on simply an ambulance on-site for games, and sometimes there isn't even someone at practices in those five schools," Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti said.

Vitti said many Duval County parents don't have health insurance, and adding full-time trainers to school staffs will allow nonemergency injuries like ankle twists or knee injuries to be treated more easily.

In the short term, the program will run off public and private funding, including donations from local hospitals, as well as grants. The school district will eventually take over the costs.

The other schools will continue to have part-time trainers available for games until their full-time trainer is on staff.

The program is expected to have full-time athletic trainers in 17 high schools in Duval County by 2020.