On Friday nights during the fall, they’re seen along the sideline.
Waiting and observing until something goes wrong and treatment is needed.
They’re also at volleyball matches, basketball games, soccer matches, baseball and softball games, track meets and every other high school sport.
They are athletic trainers, and this past March was named National Athletic Training Month in an effort “to spread awareness about all that athletic trainers do,” according to the National Athletic Trainers Association website.
And the key is injury prevention, because as Southeast athletic trainer John Karl said, only 40 percent of injuries are sustained at events.
“If you have somebody up in Pinellas County or Hillsborough County and they only have athletic trainers part-time and they mainly just work the events, they’re missing 60 percent of the injuries that happen,” Karl said. “And that’s what Manatee and Sarasota County does a good job with. They hired full-time athletic trainers, because of the liability reason.”
The full-time aspect started in 2006, which coincided with Manatee’s Chris Peters beginning with the Hurricanes.
He’s an assistant athletic trainer there, while teaching full-time at the school and is in his 15th overall year as an athletic trainer.
And being one, which requires a four-year college degree, testing and licensing with the state, produces a magician-like job description: long hours with being at various venues, depend
ing on the amount of on-campus events happening on any given night.
“The one thing I kind of always joke about is my schedule is not determined by a single sport,” Peters said. “It’s determined by the 22 teams that we have competing at Manatee High School. So my schedule is at the whim of every coach on staff. If we get an afternoon in March where it rains and softball has the day off, that doesn’t mean the training room is closed. Because baseball might still have practice. Track is practicing indoors. Weighlifting is indoors. So you’re really at the mercy of your athletic programs. And athletic training really is, it’s a health care profession but it really is a service profession. Our job is to provide a service to those athletes.”
Karl is in his 26th year, which makes him the area’s longest tenured athletic trainer. The biggest difference he’s seen is how efficient things have gotten.
Part of that is the improvement in concussion testing after a former doctor at Coastal Orthopedics, Dr. Jeremy Ng, taught high school athletic trainers about the relationship with head injuries to eye movement and reaction skills.
“He bent over backwards for anyone that wanted to learn about the new concussion protocol,” Karl said. “So he turned my weakness into a strength. So when it comes to concussions I’m golden now. I’m right on it. I’ve been doing the baseline concussion testing with ImPACT for almost four years now.”
Both Karl and Peters teach full-time in addition to being trainers at their schools.
The company that contracts the certified athletic trainers is Agility Physical Therapy and Sports Performance.
That’s for schools from as far north as Palmetto to as far south as North Port, with the exceptions of Saint Stephen’s (which hires independently) and Bradenton Christian, which doesn’t have a certified athletic trainer, Peters said.
While injury prevention is the goal, injuries happen.
In the last two years, Karl has seen three ankle fracture dislocations: two from junior varsity football players and one from a softball player.
There’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, concussions, sore elbows, sprained ankles and more that come from student-athletes competing in sports.
And in March, it was a month dedicated to shining a light on all that athletic trainers do, on the field in front of fans and the hours spent in the training room or at practices.
“It’s actually great, because it raises awareness,” Braden River athletic trainer Chris Gadah said. ” Not many know what we do, what goes on behind the scenes aspect. ”
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill and like his Facebook page at Jason Dill Bradenton Herald.