When all eyes are on the athletic trainer at a high school football game, it’s usually not a good thing. It likely means there’s concern that a player has suffered an injury.
“We don’t seek out the spotlight or want to be in it too much, either,” said Amy Bond, one of the certified athletic trainers assigned to Mankato East High School.
This week, however, those responsible for preventing, treating and rehabilitating injuries are getting a little more attention for the work they do, most notably under the Friday night lights.
Football players at East and West are wearing stickers on their helmets featuring the state of Minnesota and logo for athletic training.
It’s part of the Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association Safety in Football Campaign, the goal of which is to help teams identify ways in which they can lower the risks of injury and raise awareness of the roles of athletic trainers.
East and West are among 22 high schools and four colleges in Minnesota that are participating in the program which began last Friday and runs through this weekend. Gustavus Adolphus is one of the colleges involved.
The focus is on reducing injury risk and keeping the focus on fun and camaraderie of football.
“The good news is we haven’t had to change much of what we’re doing,” East coach Eric Davis said. “We’ve had the process in place for a long time. But it’s nice to show how much we appreciate Troy (Hoehn) and Amy and make sure they’re recognized for the great work they do.”
Through a contract with the Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic, East and West each have two certified athletic trainers on their campuses and at game sites providing services for student-athletes. Bond and Hoehn are at East, and Randy Palmer and Ryan Gebur are at West. Minnesota State graduate students are also on hand as part of their clinical rotation.
“We’re very fortunate, working with OFC for so many years,” Davis said. “We’ve grown to rely on them quite a bit. They’re at every game. They’re not necessarily at every practice, but they’re never very far away if we need them.”
Athletic trainers are also stationed at Mankato North Mankato Youth Football games.
Bond said athletic trainers work in concert with coaches as new rules and recommendations are put into place, whether that has to do with full contact in practice, heat-related issues, concussion protocols or injury treatment.
“The way things have been evolving, a lot of safety measures have been taken,” said Bond, who is in her 16th year as a CTA. “We’re working to make it safe as we can.”
According to a Great Lakes Athletic Training Association press release, more injuries happen in football than any other sport, with three times as many catastrophic injuries taking place among high school athletes as college athletes. It cited a 2007 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study reporting that 920,000 athletes under the age of 18 were treated for football-related injuries.
The release went on to say that 62% of football injuries occur during practice, but only 37% of high schools — unlike East and West — have full-time athletic trainers on site daily.
Having athletic trainers in schools is recommended by both the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
“It lowers the overall risk of injuries,” Bond said. “We work on preventative measures, and it improves assessments of injuries and return-to-play decisions and reduces the risk of recurrent injuries, too.”
While Davis said he appreciates the work of the athletic trainers, they, in turn, appreciate what the local coaches have done.
“I can’t think of one instant where they’ve questioned anything we’ve said, other than maybe ask for a timeline for return,” Bond said. “Even with the heat, they’re checking it even before we do. And the last few years, with the contact limits they now have in practice, we haven’t heard any real complaints from them. They do a really great job with it.”
While there has been much publicity in recent years about concussions and other injuries, Davis said having athletic trainers around not only to treat players but to provide information to them and coaches has made football safer.
“Any publicity in (athletic training) is good,” Davis said. “There’s been a lot of things said about football the last few years, not all of it positive. But we can take steps to alleviate people’s concerns with a lot more learning. I hope to know more in the next five years than I know now. I definitely know more than I did five years ago.”