JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The ambitious plan that was Project 17 is just about at the finish line.
On Tuesday, Atlantic Coast and Fletcher were the last two high schools announced as the beneficiaries of full-time certified athletic trainers through the Project 17 program.
The initiative, announced in 2015, was a multiple-entity collaboration between Jacksonville Sports Medicine, the Jaguars, the NFL and numerous other groups. It aimed to put a certified athletic trainer at every one of Duval County’s 17 public high schools by 2020.
Mission almost accomplished.
Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook said that the implementation of full-time athletic trainers, or ATs, is a major asset for athletes. He knows from experience just how important.
As a senior at C.H. Yoe High School in Cameron, Texas, Westbrook suffered a ruptured intestine during a game and said doctors told him it could have been fatal, and that his football career could have been over.
“If it wasn’t for that trainer pulling me out and telling me, ‘Dede, this is more serious than you think,’ and rushing me to the hospital, I probably wouldn’t be here before you guys right now,” he said.
The initial price tag on Project 17 in 2015 was estimated at $1.5 million and funded almost entirely by the private sector, as well as grants from the City of Jacksonville.
Michael Aubin, the president of Wolfson Children’s Hospital, said that Project 17 covers more than 16,000 athletes across Duval County schools and has dealt with more than 2,200 injuries since its inception.
The framework of Project 17 was designed to fund the program so that ATs would be in place at schools for a set period of time and shoulder the financial costs that went with that. ATs would essentially work full-time at their assigned high schools while simultaneously pursuing advanced college degrees at Jacksonville University, say earning their master’s in kinesiology.
Once that was complete, those ATs would leave the Project 17 structure and transition to Duval County Public Schools employees as ATs.
Currently, 12 certified ATs have gone through Project 17 and made it into the Duval system. The final five schools, Atlantic Coast, Fletcher, Mandarin, Paxon and Sandalwood, will complete Project 17 within the next two years.
“What we’ve done over five years is we’ve done a steady partnership that’s allowed the school board to absorb those positions in the budget, which isn’t easy,” said Peter Racine, the senior vice president of the Jaguars foundation and Community Impact. “Those dollars from the Jaguars, from the NFL, from Florida Blue, from our partners on the medical side, have been really important.”