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PETALUMA - As the words came out of his mouth on the 25th of June, as the decision was announced, Steve Bolman, superintendent of Petaluma City Schools, didn't need to wonder about the public's reaction.

The kids and the parents at the school board's office on Douglas Street rose to their feet to give Bolman and the five-member school board a standing ovation.

"Steve told me that never happened before," Petaluma parent Ann Reed said of the school board receiving a standing ovation. "It was a huge victory for the kids."

It was a huge victory for common sense. No longer would coaches at Petaluma's two high schools have to guess if one of their athletes had received a concussion either in practice or a game. No longer would coaches be subject to a conflict of interest, feeling the pressure to keep a kid in the game. No longer would the word "concussion" feel like some abstract phraseology applicable only to NFL players.

On June 25, the school board approved a certified athletic trainer at both Casa Grande and Petaluma. Each trainer would be paid, Bolman said, a $15,000 stipend to attend varsity practices and games during the school year. The trainers primarily would be supplied from the master's in kinesiology program at Sonoma State. And their participation would include the monitoring and treatment of all types of athletic injuries, not just concussions.

While there had been a move afoot for more than a year in Petaluma to make paid certified athletic trainers at the two high schools a reality, a presentation to the school board May 28 made it quite obvious to the school board that the issue needed to be dealt now, not later.

Four members of the city's athletic community rose to speak.

First was Heather Campbell, a non-paid athletic trainer at Casa. A teacher in athletic training for the past 20 years at the school, Campbell has been volunteering her services for the football team and other sports. Campbell opened mouths when she said 75 percent of the football injuries she treats occur during practice.

Next was Rick Krist, the head football coach at Petaluma. Among other things, Krist said valuable time was being taken away from him by his performing injury prevention — for example, taping ankles.

The third speaker was Trent Herzog, Casa's head football coach. Herzog testified there were fewer injuries and a quicker response and diagnosis with Campbell on the sidelines. He no longer had to be faced with deciding whether a player should be removed permanently from a game.

The fourth speaker was Reed, the Petaluma mom who informed the school board of the SSU program run by kinesiology department chair Dr. Steven Winter. Graduate students, already certified trainers, could advance their careers while being paid a modest stipend.

"We hit (the school board) with facts, not emotion," Reed said.

An emotional component, however, exists, one that every parent faces when a child plays sports. To keep a child safe is a mantra every parent repeats from the day of birth, increasing as the risks increase as the child gets older.

"Joey has a lot to do with me being so involved in this issue," said Reed, co-owner with her husband of a Petaluma recreational vehicle sales company and at the forefront of the push for the hiring of two athletic trainers.

Last November, Joey Reed, a running back, came home from Petaluma's junior varsity football practice with an announcement that stopped his mother in her tracks.

"I just gave one of my teammates a concussion," son said to mom. "He flew back when I hit him. I didn't hit him with my helmet. I just lowered my shoulder and ran through him."

How did Reed know his teammate was concussed?

"We had a simple drill after that," Joey Reed said, "and he ran to the left side of the formation instead of the right side."

Ann Reed immediately called Fidaa Shaheen, the mother of Jad, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound Petaluma lineman. Reed apologized profusely and was told of Jad's first comments to his mother, that he was feeling "a little woozy."

Jad subsequently missed four days of school. He couldn't look at lights, television or a computer. Jad spent most of those four days in the dark in his bedroom, with minimal physical activity.

"And the scary thing for me," Shaheen said, "you would never know it by looking at him. Yet, a month later he was still somewhat sensitive to light. My biggest shock? There was no certified athletic trainer present. I thought that was a given, a no-brainer."

It was then Ann Reed decided something needed to be done. She was already headed in that direction. She had read an article in The Press Democrat about Heather Campbell over at Casa and thought to herself, "There are two public high schools in Petaluma. Why doesn't my school have an athletic trainer?"

A tenacious sort, Reed gathered other parents. From last December to the June 25 school board vote Reed lobbied heavily for the board to act. She called each school board member individually and didn't offer inflamed rhetoric as her selling point.

"Rather, all of this was for the health and safety of our children," said Reed, 44. "And I knew I needed to offer them a solution (SSU's master program)."

Reed was a bulldog on this issue. Along with her, other parents convinced the Petaluma City School Board members this was not a passing fancy, a topic du jour.

"If the parents had not made a big push for this to happen," I asked Bolman, "would we have a paid certified athletic trainer at each high school this fall?"

"If it weren't for the parents," Bolman said, "we wouldn't be doing this, at least for this year."

Were there dissenters on June 25?

"No dissenters," Bolman said. "But in a still-tough economy there were other positions we would have liked to add. But in the end student safety is paramount."

In the end, and let's be frank about this, the adults need to be in control of student safety. Leaving it to a highly competitive and testosterone-driven teenager to be honest and forthcoming, that's risky business.

"Have you ever suffered a concussion, Joey?"

Joey was home, talking to me via speaker on his mom's phone. At her RV park Ann was listening.

"There were a couple situations in which I couldn't walk straight," the upcoming junior said.

Ann Reed's jaw dropped. She had no idea. Her son never told her. Her son probably never even thought to tell her. Hey, Joey Reed could tell his mom, I'm a teenage football player. I'm out there to compete, not to perform on-the-spot neurological diagnosis. It's not my job. It's someone else's.

On June 25, the Petaluma City School Board decided just that.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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