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Baseline concussion testing for high school athletes already suited up for fall sports has been delayed because of problems implementing the program at Santa Rosa City Schools.

Under a program approved in February, all student athletes at all five of the district's comprehensive high schools were to receive baseline cognitive tests that could be used in comparison with tests taken following a suspected head injury. The baseline tests were expected to be administered prior to the start of each season.

In addition, five certified athletic trainers were to have been hired to monitor athletes throughout the season.

But that plan hit a snag in recent months when a partnership with Sonoma State University failed to produce viable candidates the district was expecting to fill the trainer positions.

As a result, fall practices for contact sports named in the proposal — including football and soccer — have already begun, and no baseline tests have been administered.

"I want this done as soon as possible," board president and plan proponent Bill Carle said. "We've been talking about this for two years."

The delay occurred when it was determined that Sonoma State University's kinesiology department would not supply needed athletic trainer candidates for the part-time jobs.

Sonoma State's master's program in kinesiology does not currently have an established internship requirement that would have provided interns with a academic mentor, unit accrual and insurance.

"The SSU connection, it's not as strong as I thought it was going to be," said Arlen Agapinan, director of secondary school curriculum and instruction for the district and a lead player in the establishment of the program.

When the partnership was officially established in February, district officials believed SSU's kinesiology program would provide a pool of qualified candidates, some of whom might apply for the part-time, 36-week position that paid $15,000.

But without an established internship program already in place, candidates were not likely to emerge, officials said.

SSU professor of kinesiology Steve Winter told the Santa Rosa School Board on Wednesday night that the deal agreed to in February "did have its cart before the horse."

"It's been clear that SSU's program isn't in a position to get the qualified (trainers) that we need," Carle said.

With the partnership with Sonoma State on ice, the district is expected today to begin advertising the part-time athletic trainer positions to all qualified contenders. Hires are expected to be made by Oct. 15.

In the interim, doctors with the nonprofit group North Coast Concussion Management have offered to administer free of charge the baseline cognitive tests with district-purchased software. The goal is to have results for all athletes on file by Sept. 30, Agapinan said, calling the delay "disappointing."

"I know we are moving in the right direction," he said. "I know it's right for kids. I'm looking at it as something in its infancy."

Carle credited the concussion management group for stepping in to get students documented as soon as possible.

"This is a county-wide focus that they are making," he said. "It's not just about us. They perceive a need and are filling it."

"It's important, it's critical," he said. "I've seen football kids out there for a month."

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.