From left: Chris Marquez of Arizona College Prep, Julia Marino of Campo Verde and Jennifer Yates of Casteel are all in the process of receiving new equipment from Dignity as part of an $80,000 grant from the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. In total, 23 middle schools and high schools in Gilbert, Chandler and Queen Creek will benefit from the grant. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Athletic trainers are often the forgotten piece to any sports program, especially at the high school level. 

They can treat a wide variety of injuries, from bumps and bruises to immediate urgent care until paramedics can arrive on scene. They can be a coach’s best friend or worst enemy, depending on who you ask. 

But one thing is clear: They’re there no matter when called upon. 

School districts will often spend enough to ensure its head athletic trainer and staff have the necessary equipment. But like in most aspects of education, the funds aren’t unlimited. 

That’s where Dignity Health has come in. 

In partnership with the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, Dignity secured an $80,000 grant for new equipment for its partner schools across Queen Creek, Chandler and Gilbert. In total, 28 schools received new equipment for its training staff, including 14 high schools. 

“The athletic trainers are extremely grateful, said Suzie Squires, Athletic Training Manager of the Dignity Health Sports Medicine Program. “They know having the funds and these items allow them to do their jobs that much better which is their ultimate goal. Some of our schools, it’s adding to their long-running wish list.”

Most of the equipment donated through the grants went to portable automated external defibrillators. Some schools, like Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, will receive a new equipment cart used to transport equipment, staff and when necessary, injured athletes. 

The new cart is a welcomed sight for Campo Verde head athletic trainer Julia Marino. While still in her first year, she’s felt the brunt of having an outdated cart with battery issues. But she now looks forward to a new one on the way. 

“Our current golf cart is running on its last leg,” Marino said. “Just to have those funds available, we don’t have to fundraise or find the funds, we can give more attention to our athletes knowing Dignity is in the background preparing these resources for us. We can get around easier, we can build our program and use some of that money elsewhere. 

“Same thing with the AED. Those get old quickly. Many schools apply for grants and get denied so having Dignity under our belt is amazing.”

Campo Verde, like other schools, will also receive five years of subscriptions for an electronic medical record software used by trainers daily. The software allows trainers to better monitor and track each individual athlete. 

Some schools are also receiving iPads and WiFi jetpacks with the grant, which can be used for training and a variety of other things related to the head athletic trainer’s day-to-day operations keeping athletes healthy.

Chris Marquez came to Arizona College Prep two years ago from Arizona State where he served as the wrestling athletic trainer. 

At the time of his arrival, ACP was still at its old campus near Alma School and Ray roads in Chandler. The school, at the time, had a practice field and small gym, but not much else. 

But last fall the school opened its larger standalone campus near Gilbert and Ocotillo roads, which included multiple practice fields, softball, baseball, a football stadium and large gym and weight room. Quickly, Marquez had much more ground to cover during the school year when most sports are in full swing. 

“Having access to those supplies and have the golf carts to cover the such a huge ground has been so helpful, especially as we find new access points and a way to run athletics out there,” Marquez said. “It’s a lot of ground to cover.”

Along with ACP, Basha, Chandler, Hamilton, Perry and seven middle schools and junior highs received part of the grant. In Gilbert, Mesquite, Desert Ridge, Gilbert, Highland and Gilbert Classical Academy were the beneficiaries alongside Campo Verde and five junior highs. 

Queen Creek, Eastmark, Queen Creek Middle School and Newell Barney Middle School in Queen Creek were gifted equipment. 

Casteel, one of the newer and fastest-growing schools on the border of Queen Creek and Chandler, received most of its equipment from a previous grant gifted to Dignity in year’s past. This time around, the athletic training staff received the software and an extra AED. 

School athletic trainer Jennifer Yates said the school’s partnership with Dignity has been key for their growth, especially as the school’s athletic programs continue to see a constant uptick in participation from its students. 

“Our campus is super spread out, we have a junior high and high school in one,” said Yates, who has been at Casteel for four years. “Having access to golf carts or new AEDs, new ice submerging tubs or whatever it may be has been fantastic because of how many athletes we are working with in such a large, expansive space.

“Having the support of Dignity is amazing.”

Since 2014, Dignity has partnered with schools in the three communities to deliver top-notch care in a timely fashion for athletes.

Along with in-season injury prevention and care, Dignity also routinely hosts events that allow athletes to receive a full screening before the start of their respective season. 

The most recent one was held at Chandler Gilbert Community College on Saturday, April 23. Trainers and physicians from Dignity were on site with multiple stations for a wide variety of tests often conducted during a sports physical. 

Hundreds of high school athletes from Dignity’s partner schools attended the event to be cleared for summer workouts and the season. Yates said the ability for them to get cleared early gives them the opportunity to enjoy their summer and trainers the peace of mind heading into a new season.

“It’s nice for the athletes to come in today, get it done and be over with it,” Yates said. “The coaches back us on this as well because they need it done to play and can’t practice. We get support from all sides to have something this big.”

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