Article reposted from tctimnes.com
Author: David Troppens
When one thinks of the last 20 years of Fenton High School athletics, a few images pop into mind.
There are visions of state championship track performers and deep state tournament runs in girls and boys soccer.
There are visions of Metro League football titles and great football playoff victories. There are also images of the coaches that have been around during that time.
However, one other vision probably hit a lot of people’s minds, particularly if you were an athlete over those 20 years — and that is an image of Fenton’s longtime athletic trainer Mitch Smelis.
Smelis was recently honored for his service by earning the Michigan Athletic Training Society’s (MATS) Secondary Schools Athletic Trainer of the Year award for his two decades of service with Fenton athletics.
“I’m appreciative of the support and recognition, but at the same time, I want to support and recognize the people that have helped me along the way,” Smelis said. “It takes a team to do it and I’ve had great support.”
“He’s such an invaluable resource for our kids and for our coaches,” Fenton’s athletic director Mike Bakker said. “He brings flexibility to our program from a sports medicine standpoint. The kids have built a level of trust in him and a confidence in his abilities, and with our coaches as well. It helps make us a complete program because they know that Mitch has their best interest involved, and he’s going to do everything he can to get them back on the field to play. … He’s built that rapport with the kids and coaches, so he can be trusted.”
Smelis at Fenton
Smelis will be the first to admit when he came to Fenton he didn’t think he’d be at his position for 20 years. In fact, the athletic director at that time, Scott Thurlow, thought that would be the case as well.
“When I took the position in 1997 they had gone through three athletic trainers with each being one (year) and done,” Smelis said. “I thought I’d be one and done. Thurlow said he wasn’t going to get to know me because he said I was only going to be here for a year and then be gone. I said I was going to come back for a year and a day just to prove him wrong. But one year turned into two years and it kept going. The community grew on me. That’s when I met my wife, who is a teacher in the district. Now we live here and our kids are in (Fenton) schools.”
During his time at Fenton, Smelis became the first one to bring concussion testing and monitoring to Genesee County. He also was chosen to be part of a pilot study on concussion management with the Michigan High School Athletic Association. He’s also a certified CPR, First Aid and Basic Life Support instructor with the American Heart Association. And he’s apparently a great mentor as well. The same year Smelis was honored, an ex-student assistant, Emilee (Anderson) VanHoven was awarded with the Distinguished Service Award.
Smelis continues to enjoy his time at Fenton.
“I’m getting kids from the parents I initially (trained as athletes),” Smelis said. “The trust is there and it helps things move forward. If someone has an injury now we do what it takes to get them back on the field, but we also look at the big picture. We want to make them productive members of the community down the line. There are the old people who are out there that talk about their ‘trick’ knee from an ACL they suffered on a game-winning touchdown. We try to make sure we are not setting them up for future problems by just looking at short-term goals, but the long-term goals as well.”