Athletic Trainer Removed from Post for Standing Ground on Concussions

This is one heck of a way to start out National Athletic Trainer Month…

Paul Welliver, a name that should be remembered and learned about.  Welliver is a certified athletic trainer in Maryland and was until a few weeks ago the athletic trainer at Winters Mill High School.  The only one the school has ever known; being outsourced from Maryland SportsCare & Rehab.  The admin at the High School asked his employer to have him no longer provide service for them.  Welliver (at time of post) has not been fired from Maryland SportsCare & Rehab.

Why, you ask?

Because this athletic trainer stood up for what he believed and knows about concussions.  Unfortunately, this scene is all to familiar with us high school athletic trainers.  The story is from Carroll County Times;

The Carroll County Public Schools Supervisor of Athletics Jim Rodriguez and Winters Mill High School Principal Eric King told Welliver’s boss at Maryland SportsCare & Rehab that they did not want him to continue his position at Winters Mill, according to Welliver. After 10 years as the school’s athletic trainer, his last day was Feb. 12. […]

Welliver said on four different occasions in the last 18 months, he refused to begin the protocol that is meant to gradually release student-athletes back into sports participation after a concussion. The protocol, also known as Return to Play, is supposed to begin once a student-athlete returns a medical clearance form after their injury has been classified as a concussion.

In this school district they have a pretty solid concussion policy and protocol  highlighted in the story, however when the one person – and last line of defense for the student-athlete – stands up for the protection of the children he is summarily dismissed;

He said the athletic trainer has to sign off on a student-athlete’s return to full contact and competition following a diagnosed concussion.

Welliver’s refusal to start the protocol all four times was because he was concerned about the safety of the student-athletes, he said. He is worried about their short- and long-term health, he said.

“There are times when I do not believe they should return to the sport,” Welliver said. “It is not safe.” […]

“I treat all those athletes like they are my children,” he said. “Sometimes I spend more time with other people’s children than my own.”

He is exactly correct!  As if he had to really explain it to people who should not be part of the process he did for the article;

“I take into account many factors, including the number and severity of previous injuries and the age and grade of the student,” he wrote on Facebook. “It would be much easier to go along with the pressure of returning the student A.S.A.P., but I have seen way too many poor outcomes after multiple head injuries.” […]

In addition to his decision to keep student-athletes from playing their sport after a concussion based on age, grade and the severity and number of previous concussions they have experienced, he also takes into consideration the sport or sports the athlete would return to. Their return could take longer if they play high-collision sports.

Shockingly, the school district and those that put the separation is motion had no comment.

Welliver did and does it right based on all accounts, the man – athletic trainer – father and proud supporter of Winters Mill HS was doing what was in the best interest of the kids…  I repeat KIDS!  Does this school make it a point to fire/remove coaches because certain kids are not getting enough playing time?  Are the admins intimately involved in the medical care of all student athletes?  No where does this say it was standard operating procedure for Welliver to hold out EVERY athlete with concussion, just these four in the past 18 months.

Who was making the case for Welliver to go?  Was it disgruntled parents?  Was it doctors that felt they were being undermined?

Parents really don’t have a leg to stand on with this issue and any caving to them would be shameful for the district, in my opinion.  If  the local docs had an issue, perhaps they could have spoke with Welliver and figured out why this man was trying to provide superior/proper management.  Just because its on paper, concussions are not a simple check list.  Even return to play is not linear.  Every case, every injury is unique; not to mention all the compounding factors that Welliver explained.

This entire situation stinks of over-reaction and power grabbing.  Welliver did the kids a solid, he once provided great care to a school; now they will have to find someone else to fill the void.

He took a stand and for this I stand applaud!

Spread the word, and keep it up Paul Welliver.

27 thoughts on “Athletic Trainer Removed from Post for Standing Ground on Concussions

  1. The Knockout Project March 1, 2013 / 13:31

    Good job, Dustin. This is a story that NEEDS to get out there.

    • RB March 3, 2013 / 21:12

      Coaches, parents, and ADs without any knowledge of brain injuries trying to make and influence decisions for return to play. It’s absurd that they have any opinion whatsoever. I’m so happy not being in this setting anymore and having to deal with this kind of crap. Paul, I know you sleep well at night knowing you have maintained the best interest of these athletes. You’re a man of high character and you will ultimately rise above this. Good luck to you.

  2. Lisa Strick March 1, 2013 / 13:35

    I was also fired from my position as the contracted athletic trainer in a high school when standing up for concussed athletes a couple of years ago. Both the school district and my employer, who was afraid of losing the school contract, decided I was not suitable for this position. I would do the same thing again, if these situations presented themselves. I applaud you and all athletic trainers that stand up for our athletes!

  3. Educator Mom March 1, 2013 / 13:45

    WOW!!!! I’m not sure I can say that word strongly enough! There are so few on the sidelines standing up for the health, safety, and well-being of our children. And when you finally find a professional with the courage to do what’s right for the student (not what is pleasing but what is right), you give him his walking papers. That administrator should be giving him an award for standing strong for the sake of the student in spite of the pressures that may come from coaches, parents, and other athletes, and yes, even from some less than knowledgeable medical staff. I hope his community rises up in support for him. And if the next AT sends a student athlete back too soon and something catastrophic happens, do you think that same administrator will be patting him on the back for NOT being cautious with a student’s brain?

  4. Tommy Dean (@CSolutionsLLC) March 1, 2013 / 14:09

    Good job Paul!! If I was in a position to hire help, I’d hire him in a heartbeat. Thanks for posting Dustin.

  5. joe bloggs March 1, 2013 / 14:29

    NATA should be compelled to set-up are wrongful termination fund. If an ATC is bounced for doing what is medically responsible, then ads should be bought in that town and the school board should be sued on the ATCs behalf. A healthy dose of publicity and some direct legal action would end this practice post-haste.

  6. Jason Viel March 1, 2013 / 15:31

    Unfortunately I see school districts trying to appease parents more and more every year. My wife, a former high school English teacher, was approached by her assistant principal in her second year of teaching to let a student turn work in late. Even though the school policy was if you were gone ahead of time and knew about assignments and quizzes you were responsible as the student to turn work in prior to or on your 1st day back. This girl didn’t even try to turn the work in until 2 weeks after she returned from a 1 week family vacation and she had all the homework given to her prior to leaving on her vacation.

    I have seen my administration take the side of parents when it comes to a coach merely having a conversation with a star player after a loss on the court. The parents viewed this as singling out their daughter. BTW she was not even being yelled at I was standing 5 feet away and couldn’t hear what the coach was saying to the athlete. After this incident an administrator had to go to every game home and away tournaments included for the entire season.

    The year before this incident a parent actually hired a lawyer and our school Superintendent, HS Prinicpal, HS AD and school lawyer actually had to sit in on 4 different meetings all about playing time. BTW this girl was our 3 string forward.

    Sad to say but gone are the days where the parents just sit there and let the people who know what they are talking about, or doing do their jobs. Everyone thinks they know what is better for their kid.

  7. Steven Walton March 1, 2013 / 22:52

    I am the step father of Benjamin Robinson, who tragically died at the age of 14 years as a result of second impact syndrome, sustained during a rugby match, in Northern Ireland, in January 2011. Protocol that was in place at the time was not adhered to, and has been further established was not well known with schools’ coaches at the time. I tdefies belief that Mr Welliver should be castigated for proceeding with caution, in such a potentially, and as we know, actually fatal area. He should be applauded, reinstated and further supported in researching the subject and disseminating the information.

  8. Robert A. Arnone, D.C. March 2, 2013 / 06:01

    Sounds like a great guy with only the best intentions for the kids. It is quite sad to see it when other interests are able to take precedence over health. Usually it ends up being money, power, or some political agenda that is being compromised and the powers that be simply won’t allow it.
    It is a shame for the trainer and kids he was caring for.

  9. Jacqueline March 2, 2013 / 10:56

    As a student who graduated from the school Paul Welliver was fired from, and former athlete who depended on the advice of this very man, I am ashamed of my high school.

  10. Joana Valek March 2, 2013 / 11:52

    Mr Welliver sounds like someone America could learn a lot from. Individual respect for each kid’s situation – with respect for their entire future life seems to be what he wisely considered in that approach. – Too often the hysteria of “winning at all cost” seems to blind a large number of the population…be it schools, business or wars.

    What is the real cost to a person with repeated brain injuries ?- What quality of life ? Who on the outside – judging them often harshly as underachieving – has any clue of the mental, emotional or physical pain they are in ? – And for what – for an audience yelling their name ? – And the after another brain impact perhaps a life of a ‘semi-vegetable’ ? How does one ever make that a valid equation ?

  11. Kyle Lettau March 2, 2013 / 12:01

    Paul is a very well respected man in my family. He was my trainer back in the day when I used to play sports. I trust this man with my life. Over the past few years even after high school he has helped me with problems that I have had. 100% Faith in this man. He loves his job field and cares for the young athletes.

  12. Dr. Jon March 2, 2013 / 16:24

    Paul was a mentor when I was an undergrad in college. He was influential in helping me choose the career I love. You will not meet a man with more integrity and character. He is truly a role model that every athletic trainer should aspire to be.
    Now that I have kids of my own, this is tragic and another example of how much work needs to be done through education and consistent diagnosis, RTP protocols, and effective communication between all parties providing care for yound athletes. This situation occurs all too often when parents force their way into the decision-making process and the administration is weak and submissive.
    Paul will continue to be the great person he is and will find another job, and hopefully this time, with a more supportive administration.

  13. Matt Chaney March 2, 2013 / 17:03

    Sad story for our country. Sport aside, culture change in America is a million miles away, for our incestuous politics, influence peddling, driven by ‘winning’ at all costs all the time. I fear sport is just the canary in the coalmine, or, like the old line, ‘See our games, see ourselves.’ Thank you, Jacqueline and Kyle, for your testimonies of ATC Paul Welliver’s character. I hope justice comes served for him, somehow, ending this disruptive chapter for his career and family.

  14. Eric March 4, 2013 / 09:29

    Thank you for doing your job Paul!! You have made all AT’s proud!! When other AT’s hear what this school district has done there won’t be a one that will apply for that position. Good luck to those athletes and their injury care/management. This is just another example of parents/coaches making their child/athlete/sport out to be bigger and more important than it really is. Their loss of reality that these are KIDS playing a sport for healthy lifestyles hurts all involved. 98% of HIGH SCHOOL athletes WILL NOT play on in college let alone get that full ride! Parents will get a better return on their investment if they put all the money spent on JO/AAU/travel team/etc into a college fund.

  15. BryanATC March 4, 2013 / 15:17

    I am going to play devil’s advocate for a second, but first let me say one thing. I have on many occasions seen (or experienced myself) situations of parents and/or coaches attempting to force an early return to play. All too often airing on the side of caution shouldn’t even be questioned even when it’s the child’s own parents pushing for a earlier return to play.

    With that being said there can always be more details found than what are simply written in a newspaper story. It appears that the final situation in question before his dismissal the athlete was cleared by 2 separate doctors. The second was the neurologist Welliver himself told the family to go to. Even then he refused to even start the RTP protocol let alone clearing him for full participation in games.

    It’s one thing if a family practice doctor clears a symptomatic athlete for immediate return to play. It’s another if two separate doctors (including the choice of the ATC in question) clear the same athlete to merely begin a RTP protocol and the ATC still adamantly refuses.

    As I said in the beginning I have seen these situations happen and know an early RTP can be pushed hard. With that being said, I’ve also seen someone choose to take a hard nose stance on an issue with the air of nobility when it was purely out of spite and/or pride.

    If I had to bet money I’m sure Paul Welliver should not have been dismissed and at least in some part really was thinking of the child first, but it appears that the final straw situation might be more than black and white.

    • Dustin Fink March 4, 2013 / 19:09

      Valid points… However devils advocate to your devils advocate; perhaps the student in question was more truthful with Paul than the MD’s… Or perhaps the parents were coaching/answering the MD’s questions?

      One thing is for sure, it’s never black and white…

      And with what limited facts we have, still think Paul did right thing, even if it was to make a statement… There are always more games and sports… Ones opportunity to learn and have a healthy brain is limited…

      • LaRonda Fogle March 7, 2013 / 00:07

        Part of the reason that he was let go was (as he stated) he refused to do what his job description outlined him to do and what his bosses told him to do. That kind of action would get any of us fired by our current employers.

      • Dustin Fink March 7, 2013 / 07:27

        If that is what the school district is clinging to then that is chicken shit…

        Although I don’t know the actual agreement between the school and the rehab company providing the AT, usually there is not a “job description” for this type of service…

  16. Ron Lawrence March 7, 2013 / 08:22

    In addition to all of the things discussed so far I would like to also propose that we utilize technology to help identify those times when a young athlete is vulnerable to damage from repeated hits not all of which would be considered necessarily noteworthy. This technology is real and currently available and is actually being considered for application across the Pop Warner leagues in the US. This type of system allows proactive concussion management on an ongoing basis providing a tool for parents, coaches, trainers, and school administrators.

    We have just started a new blog to discuss this specific issue and provide parents, school administrators, and others involved in organized youth athletics with information about the technology and how it will help mitigate potential long term effects of these repeated high G impacts.

  17. LaRonda Fogle March 7, 2013 / 10:42

    For some reason this comment section did not post all of what I said?? I will try again

  18. LaRonda Fogle March 7, 2013 / 13:23

    I am the parent of this particular student/athlete and there are several more. Of course being the last straw that broke the camel’s back does not come without controversy. Sadly I have people leaving mean spirited messages, attacking my family on twitter, e-mailing my sons coaches/teachers (this is stooping to an all time low), demanding certain school officials be fired and cancelling their business with our company (what’s even more disheartening is this is a long time customer & someone I considered a friend. They informed me that they feel strongly about what happened to Welliver & therefore will no longer support our business. How sad.)
    Why? Because I questioned why my son was not being evaluated and examined by Paul Welliver. What happened to him next is between Paul Welliver and the school but believe me word gets around and my family and I are definitely taking direct hits for it!!! It’s terrible! I cannot believe people think that one person can make this kind of thing happen! It takes so much more than that!!! It seems people have their minds made up and believe whatever this man says but I assure you there is more to this story then what is being written in the newspaper and on facebook! It boggles my mind when people say to us “How can you do this to such a nice guy?! He was just looking out for your kid!” Even worse is the spineless cowards who go under fake names and post mean comments on the Carroll County Times online blog!
    Some question “What if your son suffers another concussion?” Well with him playing football, wrestling and lacrosse the chances are great! These are tough sports with a lot of physical contact. Life is full of “What ifs”! Does that mean we hold everyone back for fear of “What if”?
    Some compliment his facebook page where he received almost a 1,000 likes on his status. They feel that this speaks volumns about his character and says a lot about him. He’s also quoted in the paper about how many facebook likes he has. *Shaking my head* Am I the only one who saw the word “narcissism” jumping off the page at me?! Does how many facebook likes you have really define your character?! Surely if he has almost a 1,000 likes he must be in the right or a real man of integrity?!!! There are people everyday holding up signs on facebook that read for example “Mommy says if I get a 1,000,000 likes on my facebook I’ll get a new pony!” Wake up people! Facebook likes do not define your character!
    My son is a junior at Winters Mill and this was his first year wrestling since 4th grade he was having a good season until he suffered a concussion. My husband and I spotted something wrong immediately at a tournament and we knowing how serious concussions are immediately stopped him from wrestling anymore that day and weekend. Coach Lowe agreed 100% with us!! I took my son to the local ER where they ran several scans and after evaluating him determined that it was indeed a concussion. We followed up with our family doctor who would NEVER return our son to play if he still showed symptoms of a concussion!! After numerous visits to our doctor and finally showing absolutely no signs of a concussion our doctor then sign the release form. He went to school and happily gave Paul Welliver the form where Paul Welliver immediately took the form and tossed it!! He then replied “I’m not even going to look at this! You’re released when I say your released and I’m not releasing you until you go to this Neurologist” He then gave my son a neurologist name that he wanted us to see which was a Dr. Krutchfield who is the director of the Brain and Spinal Institute in Baltimore. I did as I was instructed to do but deep down I was offended by this man! I felt that he was discrediting our family physician! I was also relieved that I didn’t have an HMO because then there would be a possibility that I couldn’t go out of network to this specialist. 2 days later we were at the neurologist who did EXACTLY the same testing as our family physician! He also cleared my son stating that he shows no signs of a concussion. I would also like to add that this specialist was not cheap!!! But it’s my son and he only has one brain so I was ok to have a neurologist look him over too. I just didn’t like the way it was handled! Still I did not complain to anyone about it! My son returned to school that day and was anxious to give Paul Welliver the clearance papers. Upon receiving those papers Paul looked at my son and smiled and said “Well that’s wonderful! Maybe you’ll be able to play lacrosse in the spring!” My son was still not allowed to step a foot in the wrestling room or anywhere near the workout room. Paul Welliver had every opportunity to monitor and assess my child to see if he showed any symptoms of a concussion and chose to do absolutely NOTHING!!! How’s is that looking out for the best interest of an athlete?! Eight days pass by since my sons first release and still not a peep from the trainer as to when he will start the “Gradual Release Protocol”!
    The Gradual Release Protocol was put into place as an EXTRA SAFTEY precaution for student athletes. After an Athlete is 100% cleared by a Doctor the school is saying let’s take EXTRA measures to make sure the kids are ok and put them through a 5 day evaluation before they are totally released and allowed to resume participating in sports.

    This gives the athletic trainer an opportunity to physically make sure the athlete is ready to go back to his or hers sport. This doesn’t guarantee the release of the athlete. The trainer can still say that the athlete is not ready. Keep in mind this is after they have already been 100% cleared by the Doctor.

    If you ask me this sounds like the School Officials are taking extra steps for safety and wellbeing of our children.
    At this point it becomes clear that we need to be our child’s advocate and find out why he is being held back from possible opportunities and goals that he would like to achieve. If our child has been cleared by not 1 but 2 doctors one of which the trainer recommended why are we still not doing what we should be doing?
    How could the trainer have the athlete’s best interest if he is not going to evaluate him or her?? Again this gives the trainer time to take an extra 5 days to physically evaluate the athlete and then make a decision!

    We can go with lots of opinions like he was complacent, lazy, on a power trip and did not want to do his job or he was just standing up for what he believed in.
    Or we can go with the facts that he outlined himself which were; I refused to do what I was told to do by the people that employed me and that’s why I was released.
    Part of the reason that he was let go was (as he stated) he refused to do what his job description outlined him to do and what his bosses told him to do. That kind of action would get any of us fired by our current employers.
    If he doesn’t agree with the school policy and wants to change it well there are more professional ways to go about that. Out right ignoring kids and not evaluating them and examining them is not the way proper way to handle the situation.
    It also causes an even BIGGER problem! So many student/athletes are well aware of the way he handles things and avoid going to him for anything for fear they will never be released! I cannot tell you how many times we’ve heard “If you’re injured don’t go to the trainer because he will never release you” I wonder how many student/athletes walk around concussed because they don’t want to be kept out of a sport for anymore than they have too?
    I’m sure he is a nice guy and I’ve heard that he has done a lot of good in the school and the community I am not disagreeing with any of that! I can only tell you what happened to my kid and how it was handled. I am not a parent who pushes my kid when they’re injured or go into the school and throw around my weight because my kid didn’t get their way but I will stand up and question anyone when they’re blatantly treating my kid wrong!

    • Dustin Fink March 7, 2013 / 14:49

      Thank you for your reply… Always good to get the other “side of the coin”…

    • Educator Mom March 9, 2013 / 17:31

      There is no doubt that this has been a frustrating situation for your son and your family. However, if things had turned out differently for your son, if he had been returned to play, and experienced another or more severe brain injury, you would probably still be upset with Mr. Welliver. The Athletic Trainer at my son’s wrestling meet did not take him off the mat after getting slammed to the mat on his head (because my son said he wanted to keep wrestling). It took several more blows to the head before a ref stopped the match. The ER and family doctor diagnosed his concussion and told him just to take two weeks off. The neurology team we took him to nearly cleared him for sports weeks later but my gut told me something was not quite right. He finally admitted that he had been hiding symptoms so he could return to sports. Two years later my formerly honors level student is struggling to get C’s and D’s in school. Sports are no longer an option and his hopes for his future are all on hold and may not be possible at all. On this blog I have observed the comments and the passion of many Athletic Trainers who would have done a far better job at protecting the health and well being of my child than the person who was present on the night of his injury. My son lives out the “what ifs” every day of his life. He tells the other student athletes he meets who have experienced a concussion that it is not worth it to push too hard or to try and rush back into sports. Although I know it is hard, emotional, and stressful on the student athlete and the family, I’m not sure it is ever wrong to err on the side of caution.

  19. Frustrated Secondary School ATC April 12, 2013 / 06:43

    What a great deal of parents do not understand about the “My child got cleared by our family physician and that means my child is good to go.” mentality is that unless the MD has just finished residency very recently they probably are at least a decade behind on their knowledge about concussion management. My father is a family practice doctor in the last few years of his career. He tells me all the time that the only accurate things he knows about concussion management for his patients he learned from me, his son, the ATC. Think about that for a minute. A large number of parents are hanging their hats on what their family doctor says and many know little to nothing about current thought in concussion management. I hear all the time “Our doctor has been caring for our family for x number of years. We love him.” I try and explain to the parent at that time that I am sure that the doctor is wonderful and treats your family well, but he may not be completely up to speed on this particular injury.

    I know nothing of the situation that this blog was about, but I do know that I have also received clearance notes from the family doctor, ER doctor, PA, next door neighbor who is a nurse, etc and I have not allowed the student to return to play. Sometimes the parents understand why I am not allowing their child to return to play. Most of the time they do not. What I tell our coaches at the beginning of the year meeting and again tell the parents at the parent information is that any of five people can remove a student athlete from competition: A doctor, a coach, a parent, an athletic trainer, or the kid themselves. If ANY of those five say no then the kid does not participate.

    Again the only thing that I know about this situation is what I’ve read and not what I’ve seen or experienced, so I won’t directly comment. That being said sometimes I feel like I may be the only person that really understands the consequences of continued participation for a student with a concussion.

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