Countless youth grow up dreaming of careers as professional athletes, but they cannot
make it to the top in their sport without the people who keep them healthy and safe.
How many youth grow up planning a career as an athletic trainer? Fortunately for the athletes of Altavista High School, Angela Emerson did exactly that. And while some of the public may not fully understand the role of or appreciate the importance of the trainer for school sports, Emerson faithfully carries out her mission. In fact, it was thanks to a student trainers’ program in high school that Emerson found her calling in life. “I worked with our athletic trainer in high school and loved it. I knew from an early age that’s what I want to do,” Emerson explained. Emerson is a Rustburg native and Rustburg High School graduate. After her experience as a student trainer, she studied athletic training at the University of Richmond. Part of her education involved hands-on experience with several sports programs. These experiences further focused her career path. “Originally I thought I wanted to be a collegiate athletic trainer, but I did some internships at high schools and loved it. It fit my personality,” Emerson commented.
Upon graduation, she faced the decision of grad school or taking a job with a high school. She opted for the job at Altavista High School and has been pleased with her
decision ever since. This month is the ideal time to shine the spotlight on Emerson because March is National Athletic Training Month. “It’s really a time for trainers to promote the profession and help the public know what we do,” Emerson explained.
This year’s theme is “Your protection is our priority.” (For more information on the
National Athletic Trainers’ Association, check out the website at www.nata.org.) Not everyone understands her role. Emerson noted, “People sometimes assume that I’m a personal trainer.” She added that in Canada, the position is called athletic therapist, which more precisely describes the job. Emerson explained that it is pieces of EMT, nursing, and physical therapy all rolled into one. “Athletic trainers are certified, licensed health care professionals,” she emphasized. “Besides being trained in accurate medical care, we make sure each team has an emergency plan of action,” she added. Trainers also help ensure that sports teams comply with Virginia’s concussion law and VHSL guidelines for injuries. “The most important reason to have athletic trainers is that it provides a net of protection for athletes and coaches,” Emerson observed. “It concerns me when it’s not a priority for schools [to have a trainer] because it forces the coaches who are not health care professionals to make decisions they shouldn’t have to make.”
Parents may be scared when a child is injured, but the presence of a trainer as a medical professional provides protection and peace of mind. “Campbell County Schools
have had athletic trainers since the mid-90s, which is pretty advanced because there
are several single-A schools that still don’t have one,” she noted. “When we play against schools that don’t have athletic trainers, it can be scary for parents, coaches, and athletes.” Emerson hopes that it will soon become mandatory for schools to provide athletic trainers, although often it is a budget issue. “But what price can you put on a student’s life?” she queried. “I fear that sometimes schools may wait until there’s a catastrophic injury before putting an athletic trainer in place.” She explained that just such a situation happened in Virginia a few years ago: a football player died. “Suddenly, both schools in that county found the money to hire athletic trainers.”
For more on this story, see this week’s Altavista Journal.