Article reposted from The Berkeley Independent
Author: Rob Gantt
With a medical glove slipped onto his right hand and the other one securely planted on the gym floor, Ernie Drews supported himself on all fours and screamed in the direction of the wrestling mat, not even remotely concerned about messing up his light khaki pants.
Begging and pleading with a referee 20 feet away to call a pin for Goose Creek High School in a rivalry match with Stratford High School a few years ago, Drews had been swept up in the excitement. The grooves on his face evidence he’s into the clash almost as much as anybody else in the building.
That was Ernie Drews being Ernie Drews, a head athletic trainer first for the Gators but also a staunch, unwavering supporter of the school’s athletic teams and its students. Also at various points, he helped coach girls basketball, softball, baseball and boys soccer at GCHS.
“When I’m in, I’m all in,” said the 61-year-old Drews, who has stepped down as the Berkeley County school’s head athletic trainer. “I don’t care if it is tiddlywinks or backgammon, I’m going to put all I have into it. I’m very loyal.”
And that included sitting through some Goose Creek teams losing every game. Drews was there wearing black and gold no matter what. On the other end of the spectrum, he looks back fondly on the run the Chuck Reedy-led football team made to the state championship in 2011.
But he also remembers the squad that won one game many years earlier.
“You get into this business for the kids,” he said, “because you want to make a difference. You have to be in the mindset that you’re a fan and support them through thick and thin. Teaching comes from the heart.”
“I’m going to miss working with the kids and being around athletics,” he added. “It kind of keeps you young.”
The support of the school and student-athletes helped push him through a bout with throat cancer in 2013-14. At one point, he nearly died from pulmonary embolisms in each lung.
Drews, who came to Goose Creek High School in 1999, also did 12 years at Conway High School and has one more year left in education. He’ll continue to teach health science classes in 2017-18 before winding down a career that goes back 30-plus years.
The head athletic trainer post now goes to Kelly Stratoti, 30, Drews’s assistant. Stratoti carried the program when he had cancer, though Drews often popped in.
“I knew everything was in great hands with Kelly in charge,” Drews said. “Knowing her and my students were committed to maintaining the standard of care for our athletes made it easier for me to recover because there was no stress.”
Drews sings Stratoti’s praises for her performance in the classroom and training room. In the aforementioned snapshot from five years ago, Stratoti is seated to Drews’ left and wearing medical gloves on each hand. Like Drews, she’s a hybrid worker bee and Gators fan. You can see the excitement on her face as she prepares to gain her balance and burst out of the chair, yearning for a Goose Creek pin.
“She enjoys teaching and she’s doggone good at it,” he said. “Kelly is a very competent and talented athletic trainer. I turned all the rehab over to her. She’s into crossfit and she brings that into the training room. We follow protocols for each specific injury but she’s gotten kids back stronger and quicker. Kelly is a crackerjack when it comes to rehab. Goose Creek is getting a great one. My methods are tried and true but hers are a little more on the cutting edge.”
Drews knows he’ll have extra time in the evenings next school year but is also keenly aware somebody else in his life probably has those minutes and hours carved out for herself. Drews married longtime girlfriend Vicky Ballard in September 2016.
“I’m sure she’s got a honey-do list I’m going to need to get to,” he joked. “I won’t just be sitting around watching soap operas.”
As the 11th hour winds down on his athletic training career at GCHS, Drews is going out on top. He was recognized with national and state awards this spring.
As a winner of the National Athletic Trainers Association service award, Drews will be honored at an awards ceremony during the NATA Symposium in Houston later this month.
“It means a lot because you have to be nominated by one of your peers,” he said. “There are a little over 30,000 athletic trainers and only about 28 won service awards this year. I’m very humbled and honored to receive it.”
Drews also was chosen as the 2017 Athletic Trainer of the Year by The South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association for the second time. He also received the award in 2004. He will be recognized at the SCACA convention in Charleston on July 23-26.
“Being an athletic trainer is more than passing out water bottles and band aids,” Drews said. “There’s a lot more to it.”