KSI Program Supporting Athletic Trainer Services in Secondary Schools Extended

UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) has received an additional $3 million to continue their innovATe program, connecting schools around the nation with athletic training services

Basketball game scene

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UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) has received an additional $3 million to continue their successful innovATe (Improving Needed Nationwide Opportunities & Value of Athletic Trainer Employment) program.

CAHNR 10th Anniversary of Health badge“We are tremendously proud of the success of the innovATe project and are grateful the project was extended, enabling more school communities across the country to increase access to athletic training services,” says Douglas Casa, KSI CEO and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology within the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

innovATe provides funds for school districts across the country to hire athletic trainers. innovATe is a collaborative project administered by KSI and funded by the Education Fund established as part of the NFL Concussion Litigation settlement.

“Every athlete should have access to the quality medical care that an athletic trainer provides. innovATe is helping to close the gap in under resourced school communities across the country,” says Christianne Eason, director of innovATe, KSI president of sport safety and education, and assistant professor in residence of kinesiology.

This renewal will allow the program to welcome its three more cohorts between 2024 to 2026, supporting a total of 12 new school districts. Each cohort will receive funding for three years.

Boston Public Schools (BPS) was part of the first innovATe cohort in 2021. They partnered with Mass General Brigham and now employ seven full-time athletic trainers for their high schools, with additional per diem support with plans to continue expanding.

“This aligns with our healthcare system’s mission to serve the needs of all communities, to support all communities, especially those that may have limited resources,” says William Desjardins, operations manager of athletic training for Mass General Brigham.

Before innovATe, BPS relied on per diem athletic trainers for medical care. innovATe allows athletic trainers to be fully integrated into the schools’ athletic programs and build relationships with athletes and coaches.

“Knowing that you need athletic training expertise at more than just the required sports, knowing that the continuity of care is an important piece, knowing that just given our size, our student population – these are things that we needed to have as tangible resources in our district,” says Avery Esdaile, senior director of athletics at BPS.

While the school nurse provides healthcare for students during the school day, athletic trainers are there during students’ extracurricular activities. They have the necessary expertise in sports medicine to manage acute injuries and illnesses, promote injury prevention programs, and after injury has occurred, guide rehabilitation and help students return to play.

“I think we as athletic trainers are sometimes thought of as those who just tape ankles and patch up skinned knees,” says James Zachazewski, clinical supervisor of athletic training for Mass General Brigham. “But I think the advent of COVID, the increased emphasis on the proper management of head injury and concussion, and everything else that the athletic trainer is responsible for has taught us the athletic training room is no longer just a training room. It should be considered an athletic healthcare center, and equivalent to the school nurse’s office.”

Thanks to innovATe, BPS has become a leader in the region through initiatives such as a program focused on injury prevention in female athletes, who have different risks than their male counterparts.

“It’s showing that BPS went from where they were a few years ago to now being ahead of some of those schools in the suburbs, which is impressive to see,” says Michael Belanger, director of athletic training at Mass General Brigham.

Another first-cohort recipient, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) partnered with Mercy Health to provide athletic training services. innovATe specifically supports three of the smallest schools in the district that had been sharing athletic trainers with larger schools: the Spencer Center, Riverview East Academy, and Oyler School.

“First and foremost, the most important thing is the health and safety of those kids and having someone to connect with as soon as they have any injury,” says Josh Hardin, CPS athletics manager. “There’s a peace of mind around our coaches and staff being more supported and having more direct resources.”

Katie Hamberg is an athletic trainer and the manager of sports medicine partnerships and community education programming for Mercy Health.

Mercy Health provides athletic training services at the schools’ football, and girls’ and boys’ basketball games.

The athletic trainers arrive before each game to check in with the student athletes. Then they stay for the game on the sidelines, ready to jump into action if someone is injured.

Mercy Health also offers a walk-in clinic to treat injuries that do not require a trip to the emergency room.

“It’s another touchpoint with an athletic trainer, with a healthcare professional who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of these student athletes,” says Hamberg. “They could use as many people on their side as they can get.”

Both BPS and CPS intend to continue their partnerships after their innovATe funding ends this year.

“Eason and her team have been so instrumental in our ability to do what we have been able to do,” Hardin says. “From the start of the grant, she and her team have wrapped their arms around our athletic department and our schools…We’re truly grateful for that support.”

Another district at the start of their innovATe experience, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is one of four school communities selected for funding as part of the third innovATe cohort in 2023.

LAUSD serves more than 563,000 students across its 1,438 schools, but only had eight athletic trainers for the entire district. The district has a 90% minority enrollment and 81% of students are economically disadvantaged according to US News. innovATe funds are helping the district hire three additional full-time athletic trainers.

“The necessity for athletic trainers extends far beyond the sidelines. In underserved communities, high school athletes may rely solely on them as their primary healthcare providers,” says Kirsten Farrell, LAUSD athletic training coordinator. “Looking ahead, we’re eager to continue our growth and increase the number of providers even further next year.”


This work relates to CAHNR’s Strategic Vision area focused on Enhancing Health and Well-Being Locally, Nationally, and Globally.

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