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High school athletic trainers: Keeping our kids healthy for competition

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Secondary School

High school athletic trainers: Keeping our kids healthy for competition

Just minutes after school let out Tuesday, Sprague High’s athletic training room was filled with student-athletes.

Amy West was hard at work, helping with ankle injuries and shoulder injuries, and directing her student aides to fill water coolers for the afternoon’s competitions.

The Olympians’ home slate Tuesday included boys tennis, varsity and junior varsity softball, and freshman baseball.

“We go through this mass chaos right after school where everyone is trying to get to their games or practices or whatever,” said West, who has been the athletic trainer at Sprague since 1996.

Athletic trainers play an important role in high school sports, and to meet the need, the Salem-Keizer School District has an agreement with Hope Orthopedics.

In the agreement, the district pays $23.33 per hour for 5,880 hours during the school year. For that, each of the six Salem-Keizer high schools gets an athletic trainer for all home OSAA-sanctioned sporting events, as well as all home and away varsity football games.

“We’re looking out for the needs of our schools and our (athletic directors) and our athletic trainers to make sure we’re getting the coverage,” said Larry Ramirez, director of high schools for the Salem-Keizer School District. “I would say the number one thing, whether it’s school or athletics, is safety.”

Both the district and Hope work together to come up with the protocol when dealing with injuries.

“We have an agreement with them that they are the ones who are going to release the kids back, to let them play or not,” Ramirez said. “The call is for the medical professional, not the coach.”

West not only is a teacher and athletic trainer at Sprague, but she also is in a leadership role among the district’s athletic trainers.

“I help oversee all the athletic trainers,” West said. “For Hope, I’m the first line that they go to for things like that.”

West is in a unique position where she also is a teacher at Sprague with classes in sports medicine and health services.

Because she is a full-time teacher, West shares her athletic training duties with Kimo Mahi, who is a teacher at Judson Middle School.

“For Kimo and I, it’s all after a full day of teaching,” West said. “Each school gets 980 hours to utilize. Here, we share those. All the other schools, they have their single athletic trainer.”

Just like in professional and college sports, the high schools take a cautious approach to head injuries.

“We’ve adopted an extremely conservative approach, and I’ve seen frustrations all the way around because of that,” West said. “But I think we haven’t really seen, or we are just now starting to witness the long-term effects of these repetitive head traumas.”

Oftentimes in sports, particularly in professional and college football, athletes will be hesitant to self-report concussions. Is that the same in high school?

“Sometimes, you have to yank them off the field,” West said. “A lot of times, and especially on the football field, a teammate will report something.”

The school district and Hope teamed up to create a six-step process for returning an athlete to action after a suspected concussion.

The process is meant to ease the athlete back into competition with a number of safeguards and medical clearances along the way.

The six steps are: No activity, light exercise, sport-specific activities, non-contact training drills in full equipment, full contact practice or training, and then return to play.

“These are guidelines that Hope and the Salem-Keizer school district worked together on,” West said. “There is actually now a school district policy in place concerning the handling of concussions with athletes. Everyone is following it right now. Once they are symptom-free, then we start progressing them back to activity.”

West said she enjoys her job, especially working with the athletes.

“I was always interested in medicine and things like that. And then I got involved in the program when I went to Western Oregon, just helping out in the training room,” West said. “You get paid to watch events, and we cross our fingers that nothing happens.”

During her 20 years, West has seen many Sprague sports moments, and three in particular stand out.

“The three state championships that I’ve been a part of are pretty hard to top,” West said, referring to the Olys’ 2005 baseball, 2004 football and 2003 softball state championships.

The football and baseball state championships came during the same 2004-05 school year.

“It was the same school year, same group of kids,” West said. “That was a pretty amazing year. That was a long year, in terms of athletic training. Playoffs eat up hours like crazy. That was just an amazing year.”

pmartini@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6730 or Twitter.com/PeteMartiniSJ

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