PSRC logo

Superintendent Dr. Williamson calls NFL player's cardiac arrest a ‘wake-up call’

LUMBERTON — The Public Schools of Robeson County is mandating that all coaches are to be certified in CPR so they will be properly equipped to respond in emergency situations such as the cardiac arrest suffered recently by Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin.

“It’s a wake-up call,” said PSRC Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson, referring to the cardiac arrest suffered by Hamlin after the Bills player tackled/collided with a Bengals player in a recent football game.

Hamlin received CPR quickly after the incident and is on the road to recovery, according to multiple news reports.

“That should be a wake-up call for every school system in the country,” said PSRC Athletic Director Jerome Hunt.

“That event that happened in the NFL, it can happen to anybody,” said Myranda Hammonds, an athletic trainer at Purnell Swett High School.

Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in youth athletes, she said. She also said that in emergency situations time is critical and EMS response time may be longer than expected.

“So it’s important that the coaches are certified and confident enough to provide that level of care if it’s needed,” Hammonds said.

The district will mandate middle school coaches who are not yet certified in CPR to soon become certified.

He estimated that about half of PSRC middle school coaches are CPR-certified.

NCDPI has not mandated that all middle school coaches become certified in CPR, but the North Carolina High School Athletic Association does mandate that high school coaches must be CPR certified.

All certified high school coaches are CPR certified. All high school volunteer coaches are certified in “Sudden Cardiac Arrest,” Hunt said.

Safety measures in place

There are individuals who are designated as “first responders” who are stationed at every athletic event.

NCDPI defines first responders as individuals who have “CPR, First Aid, training in concussion management, continuing education in injury prevention and 10 hours of staff development each school year,” according to an NCDPI official.

It is not a requirement to have first responders at middle school games, but middle schools are encouraged to work toward having first responders at sports events, according to NCDPI.

All of our middle school athletic directors are certified in First Aid Safety and CPR, according to Hunt. Most first responders are coaches certified in CPR.

There also are automated external defibrillators at each school which are available at all sporting events.

Athletic trainers

The district through a partnership with UNC Health Southeastern employs four athletic trainers who work with high school athletes. As of Feb. 1, two new athletic trainers will be added to the staff.

“We’ve had two athletes whose lives have been saved because of athletic trainers' swift action in the past,” Hunt said.

In recent years a football player’s spleen ruptured during a game, said Hunt who worked as Purnell Swett High School’s athletic director at the time.

Two years later, a football player went into cardiac arrest after a hit, Hunt said.

“I witnessed the cardiac arrest firsthand,” said Hunt who was serving in his current role as the district’s athletic director at the time. “That’s one of the scariest things that I have ever been a part of.”

Having AEDs, CPR-certified personnel and athletic trainers available can save lives in the event of an emergency situation.

“It's great to see those athletic trainers jump in there and do what they were trained to do,” Hunt said.

UNC Health Southeastern, in partnership with the UNC Health Physician Network, provides national board-certified and state-licensed athletic trainers at public high schools in Robeson County.

“Athletic Trainers are present and on site daily at area high schools, providing injury prevention, immediate evaluation of injuries, emergency care, easy access to follow-up treatment, and expert guidance in rehabilitation from athletic injuries including safely returning athletes to sports,” said Raymond Henley, UNC Health Physician Network Director of Operations.

“Having these professionals on site allows early intervention in any potentially life-threatening situations that occur under their watch,” Henley added.

Athletic trainers are highly qualified, multi-skilled healthcare providers who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative care, emergency services, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.

The trainers work under the supervision of Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Eric Breitbart of UNC Health Orthopedics at Southeastern Health Park and UNC Health Southeastern, whose partnership with PSRC to provide athletic trainers began in 2011.

“Our Athletic Trainers maintain a minimum of Basic Life Support training for Health Care Professionals (CPR) as well as 25 hours of education annually to maintain state licensure and national certification. Licensure through the North Carolina Board of Athletic Trainer Examiners and National Certification through the Board of Certification of Athletic Trainers is obtained only after completion of a bachelor’s and, now master’s degree, in Athletic Training,” Henley added.    


There are challenges in securing athletic trainers.

One challenge is the nationwide shortage of athletic trainers, Hunt said.

Another challenge includes universities that make the program a master’s level program. As a result, it takes individuals more time to complete the degree, he said.

However, the Public Schools of Robeson County continues its commitment to the safety of student-athletes and will continue to do so.