Secondary School

Arkansas Athletic Trainer dispenses care and advice for athletes


Secondary School

Arkansas Athletic Trainer dispenses care and advice for athletes

Article reposted from Times Record

It’s a typical afternoon inside the trainer’s room at Northside High School’s indoor athletic complex.

A Lady Bear volleyball player is getting treatment for her knee. A Grizzly football player needs some ice for his wrist. A Lady Bear tennis player comes in to have her ankles checked out. Other athletes begin streaming in, needing something for whatever ails them.

Northside’s longtime athletic trainer, Sherry Riggins, is used to the constant traffic of athletes streaming into her office.

“There’s a lot of people coming in here, especially during seventh period, because most of the athletic activities are going on that period, so we have multiple sports (athletes) coming in here and they need some kind of care before their practice gets started,” Riggins said. “But then I also do rehabilitation, and so sometimes after we get everybody ready for practice, then we do some rehabilitation, whether it’s knees, ankles or shoulders, so it’s a busy place.”

For more than 20 years, Northside athletes have been taken care of by the person affectionately referred to as “Miss Sherry.” She is calm but firm in her demeanor, dispensing advice just as much as she dispenses medicine for the athletes.

“I think most of the athletes want to be successful, and at a time and in their careers here in high school when there’s an injury, sometimes that can be very discouraging and devastating to them,” Riggins said. “But my job is not only to help them get well and be successful in their sports, but to be successful human beings in society and to give back.

“Actually, being an athletic trainer for me is like a calling, it’s not just a job because what I want to do is for them to be successful in life more than they do for athletics, because the percentage of any athletes going on into the professional (ranks) is not real large. So to be a successful person and to try to attain the goals they want to, that’s part of what my job is and part of the fulfillment of my job.”

Riggins, a Fort Smith native and Northside graduate, is currently in her 23rd year at her alma mater, and is in her 28th year as an athletic trainer. She’s seen a lot of changes over the years, from advancements in medicine to upgraded facilities.

But her biggest adjustment came once she set foot on Northside’s campus. Female athletic trainers at the time were generally uncommon, and there might have been some hint of skepticism from mainly male coaches. But Riggins said she was more than determined to prove her worth and that she belonged.

“I was probably one of the first female athletic trainers in Arkansas, so it was an adjustment for male coaches,” she said. “Females were not just in that profession in athletics, especially in Arkansas, so they had an adjustment. There probably was some that were very apprehensive, but that really didn’t bother me. All I wanted to do was prove myself as an athletic trainer and take care of the kids, and I felt like when that was accomplished, then all the apprehension would go away and it did.

“It was the general worries of being a female in a male population with male athletes, the apprehension there, but once they discovered that I knew what I was doing as an athletic trainer, that the male and female (dynamic) was not a problem any more.”

There were other obstacles when Riggins went to Northside after having previously served as a trainer at Ozark. It was a bigger school with more sports, which invariably meant there would be a more demanding schedule.

“The schedule probably was (a big adjustment) because it was very demanding, especially at a 7A high school,” she said. “You have multiple sports, so as far as that was concerned, as far as being comfortable, it was just adapting to the schedule and teaching others what athletic training was and what was needed and the facilities that I needed, so as far as being comfortable in my own skin, I was fine.

“I was an older athletic trainer, too; most of them had come out of college and I had a family and I had already been to college some, so I think being to my advantage was being an older female and that made it easier for the other coaches to accept.”

Riggins always had an interest in the medical profession growing up. But a skiing injury eventually forged the path to lead her to a career as a trainer.

“I was interested in medicine anyway, but I had two small children, so the medical field wasn’t a big possibility for me,” Riggins said. “But I always liked athletics, and our family was always involved in it. I had injured myself snow skiing and injured my knee, and when I came back, a friend of mine told me she had gone to a CPR class, and there was a gentleman there that was what they called an athletic trainer and that he worked with athletes, so she said you ought to go talk to him.”

That trainer was Tom Cantwell, who was Northside’s original trainer.

“When I went to talk to him, he discouraged me from going into the profession because of all the long hours, and because I had a family and I would have to commute to the University of Arkansas and that was before (Interstate 49) was built. … I was very interested in it, and my personality is if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m probably going to show you I can. So I commuted (to Fayetteville) for three years and got my degree.