Jeremy Hoeck spent the evening of Jan. 13 shadowing the Mount Marty College athletic trainer during a home basketball doubleheader at Cimpl Arena.
Sara Bortscheller would be the first tell you there’s more to her job than meets the eye. More than what the average fan in the stands sees.
When you’re an athletic trainer, there’s more to it than simply taping ankles and filling water bottles. When you’re the only athletic trainer on staff, you find yourself keeping rather busy.
It’s all a matter of time management and organization.
“Since there’s only one of me, I try to set my hours a little bit,” said the 27-year-old Bortscheller, who is in her first year as full-time athletic trainer at Mount Marty College in Yankton.
Contracted by Mount Marty, Bortscheller is the only full-time athletic trainer at the NAIA school, which means she’s constantly juggling athletes’ needs, practices times and events.
Mount Marty is one of two schools in the Great Plains Athletic Conference that has only one full-time trainer. College of Saint Mary also has one, but that school only offers women’s sports.
However, Bortscheller isn’t entirely unfamiliar with being part of a small staff.
A native of Remsen, Iowa, Bortscheller returned to South Dakota last fall when she accepted the position at Mount Marty. The 2010 Augustana College graduate previously spent time at Iowa Central Community College and then Louisburg College (North Carolina) before coming to Yankton.
The former four-sport athlete in high school admits that she originally thought she would become a physical therapist.
“But once I got into school, I thought, ‘Nah, let’s do more school,’” Bortscheller joked during an interview in the Mount Marty training room at Laddie E. Cimpl Arena.
But she quickly realized that becoming an athletic trainer involves plenty of schooling and plenty of extra work.
That’s one of the common misconceptions of her job, she says: There’s quite a difference between a personal trainer, for example, and an athletic trainer. To be a personal trainer, one only needs a high school diploma and completion of an online course. To be an athletic trainer, one needs a Master’s degree in athletic training, to be nationally board certified and licensed in that state. And then there are administrative duties (budgets, insurance, etc.).
“We’re not glorified water boys,” Bortscheller says with a smile. “You don’t see what goes on behind the scenes.”
The majority of her time, she says, is spent in rehabilitation and prevention work, as well as treatments.
In addition to Tuesday and Thursday morning classes she teaches this semester, Bortscheller’s mornings usually include treatment and rehab work for any athlete that needs attention. Depending on class schedules, athletes will also come in for work during certain afternoon blocks, and Bortscheller is usually around during practices at Cimpl Arena – during basketball season, it’s just the two teams. During the fall, however, she also has volleyball practices to work around.
It’s all a juggling act, she says.
“You have to prioritize and say, ‘OK, who needs to be seen right away?’ Bortscheller says. “With one person, everyone has to take their time, so you have to make sure you’re organized.
“You need lots of patience, too. That’s a virtue.”
Especially when you’re solely responsible for handling all of those duties.
What follows is a running diary of Bortscheller’s duties before, during and after the Mount Marty College basketball doubleheader on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
4:45 p.m. — The women’s game doesn’t start for another 75 minutes and Bortscheller is already facing what will end up being her biggest decision of the night.
Mount Marty junior Ashley Green collided with a Northeast Community College player during a junior varsity game the night before and had the teeth marks on her forehead to prove it.
After Bortscheller asked a series of questions (one, in particular, including when exactly the injury happened) and conducted a couple of tests, the trainer conferred with a Mount Marty assistant coach to discuss the issue. Ultimately, the decision was made to not suit Green up for the game as a precaution.
As frustrating as it may have been not to be able to play, it was proof that Bortscheller could handle anything that comes her way, Green said.
“It’s awesome that she spends so much time in here during the day if we need something,” Green said, as she sat on the training table while Bortscheller taped the ankles of two Northwestern players.
You just never know what might come up and when you might need a trainer’s advice, Green adds.
“One time, I came in here with a bad knee, and she said it was just sore; that there was nothing majorly wrong,” Green says. “She gave me some exercises to do, and eventually it felt better.”
5:00-5:45 p.m. — Just as the two women’s teams get ready for their pre-game warmups out on the court, this is usually a quiet time for Bortscheller.
She said she finds little moments during the day to get caught up on paperwork or any other administrative duties. On this night, though, she sits down for a half-hour interview.
5:50 p.m. — Bortscheller makes her way out to her usual spot, in the second row of the wooden bleachers behind the Mount Marty bench. She brings with her the usual “kit,” a suitcase filled with her equipment (tape, bandages, etc.).
She sits quietly as Northwestern jumps out to a 16-0 lead on the Lancers, who call a pair of timeouts in the game’s first 4 1/2 minutes.
6:30 p.m. — With three minutes before halftime of the women’s game, Bortscheller makes her way back to the training room. This is also a routine, she said, as that is usually the time a bulk of the Mount Marty men’s players start getting ready for their game.
On this night, Bortscheller tapes the ankles of Mount Marty sophomore Jalen Hurley. Not every player will get taped, she says.
6:40 p.m. — With Northwestern leading Mount Marty 45-33 at halftime, the Lancer men’s players take the court for warmups.
“More of my men’s players are more banged up right now than my girls,” Bortscheller says as she watches. She always tries to make an effort to be out by the court whenever players are practicing or warming up, she adds.
6:53 p.m. — Trey Bernatow, the son of Mount Marty baseball coach Andy Bernatow, walks into the trainer’s room during the third quarter of the women’s game. He walks over to men’s players Alex Irvine and Patrick Ciganovic, who are lying on tables.
“When you get old, you have to warm up your muscles,” Ciganovic jokes to Bernatow. After a series of more questions, Bernatow walks back out to the court.
7 p.m. — There are now three Mount Marty men’s basketball players in the training room, each doing his own separate pre-game routine.
When there’s only one trainer around to help you, there are many things you end up figuring out how to do yourself, according to junior Drew Matsushima.
Yes, ideally, Mount Marty would have more than one trainer, but Matsushima credits Bortscheller for at least helping the athletes understand and learn certain pre-game techniques that don’t necessarily require any assistance.
It just depends on the player.
“Some don’t like doing anything,” says Ciganovic, another junior. “Everyone is different.”
And there are many times, as Bortscheller joked earlier, where it feels like everyone is in the training room at the same time.
It comes with the territory when you’ve got that many athletes to work with.
“I’ve been in here quite a few times this season, and with only one trainer, she can be pretty busy,” says freshman Drew Cheskie. “I’ve been in here when there were like five or six other people.”
7:27 p.m. — With the third quarter about to close in the women’s game, the crowd noise starts to pick up out at the court. Northwestern, which had once led by at least 20 points, has a 79-68 lead on Mount Marty.
“Alex was draining threes like it was her job,” Bortscheller says, referring to Mount Marty senior Alex Kneeland.
7:45 p.m. — The women’s game has ended, with Northwestern defeating Mount Marty 97-87. The story of the game, though, was the 46-point performance by Kneeland. As it turns out, those 46 points were four shy of the school record.
The time between games is rather quiet for Bortscheller. There might be the occasional women’s player from either team that will come in to get an ice pack wrapped on a certain area.
8:35 p.m. — With five minutes remaining in the first half of the men’s game, it’s been a relatively quiet night to this point for Bortscheller.
“I always tell them, if I’m not busy, it’s a good night,” she says.
9:20 p.m. — Bortscheller’s closest call of the night comes with 8:20 remaining in the second half. A Northwestern player is inadvertently hit in the face and falls to the floor, where he remains for a good 10 seconds.
Bortscheller gets up from the bleachers and makes her way over to the corner of the court, just in case. Eventually, the player gets up and continues playing.
9:37 p.m. — The men’s game has ended, with Northwestern capturing an 81-54 win.
Bortscheller packs up her cart (which features the water jug, etc.) and wheels it back to the training room, where she will wait in case any players need an ice pack wrapped.
She starts to pack everything up and get the room organized. It’s the conclusion of another long day.
“All in all, not bad,” she says.