Athletic trainers play vital role in high school sports

Von Steuben 2
Photo at top: Tyrus Jenkins, far right, looks for a whistle after diving for a loose ball against Prosser. (Karl Bullock/MEDILL)

By Karl Bullock

Walking along the campus of New Trier High School in 2000, Dale Grooms looked in awe at the scenery. Standing a foot from the sideline of the football field were four trees, a potential hazard for student-athletes during competition.

A cause for concern, at least for an athletic trainer.

When an injury occurs, athletic trainers are the healthcare professionals’ who coaches, parents and administrators count on to ensure proper protocols are being taken. Yet, not every high school has the luxury of employing trainers.

Von Steuben is one of the Chicago Public Schools that currently does not have an athletic trainer on staff.

“We’re very limited on funds where we can have a trainer on site,” said Marvin Williams, head basketball coach at Von Steuben.

Grooms, the representative for the Great Lakes district of the National Athletic Trainers Association and an athletic trainer at New Trier, said budget limitations are an unfortunate reason for the lack of trainers at certain schools.

“It’s how school districts choose to allocate that money,” he said. “They have to determine whether they want that athletic trainer.”

At Von Steuben, Williams and the rest of the coaching staff serve as trainers by following a set of procedures for medical treatment when players suffer minor injuries. They handle all issues unless a doctor’s attention is required.

“It’s just something that comes with the territory,” Williams said.

The Illinois Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act requires all IHSA school members to comply with by-laws to take courses on the risks of concussions every two years.

Despite the training and protocol, Williams acknowledges there is very little knowledge he and his peers have when it comes to injury prevention and rehab.

“Someone hitting their head in a camp or practice is different than a computer,” said Quinn Peterson, the basketball coach at Walter Payton. “Many times we don’t really know what’s going on.”

Fortunately for Peterson, he doesn’t have to worry about handling injuries. Walter Payton, another Chicago Public League school, employs an athletic trainer, Jennifer Elgin.

During games, Elgin has seen ligament tears, broken bones and lost teeth. She provides injury evaluations, and emergency care assessments while also communicating with parents, and educating them on a plan of care.

“We’re guiding players through an entire process of an injury,” Elgin said.

Peterson said it helps to have a certified professional to provide direction for how soon an injured player can return to practice and games.

“I’ll push guys, but it’s important to know there’s a frame of reference for when we should keep an eye on something,” he said.

For schools like that don’t utilize an athletic trainer, Grooms said he hopes administrators realize the advantages to having one. He said coaches already deal with pressure from parents and themselves to win games. Removing the management of injury care will take a burden off their shoulders.

“We don’t want them [coaches] to be put into that situation to make those medical decisions on what’s best for that athlete,” Grooms said.

Photo at top: Tyrus Jenkins, far right, looks for a whistle after diving for a loose ball against Prosser. (Karl Bullock/MEDILL)