It was a 47-year journey for Al Errico in his career as an athletic trainer, but he finally achieved one of his lifelong goals when he came to the end of the road, serving as a part-time athletic trainer for Chatham High School over the past two years.
“It’s something I always wanted to do from when I graduated from college, to work in Chatham,” Errico said. “It happened at the end of my career, not the beginning. It’s my hometown I’ve always had pride in Chatham.”
The 70-year-old Errico retired this month, with the Chatham High boys soccer game held on Oct. 27 marking his final game.
“I learned that something new and interesting can happen at any time, at any place,” Errico said of his career. “My overall impression has been that the athletes have always been very respectful, the coaches likewise, so it’s been a pleasant time, especially the Chatham coaches and staff. They’ve made me feel a part of the team whenever I’ve been there.”
Errico was part of the team at Chatham High in the 1960’s when football coach Herm Herring made him the manager of the team.
“I was too small to play football when I was in high school, soaking wet I was 130 pounds, compared to what Chatham had at that time, a line that averaged 250 pounds,” Errico said. “I wanted to get involved. Herm Herring accepted me as his manager. We had great teams in those days.”
From Chatham he went to Seton Hall University and received his degree in Physical Education and Health, being mentored in athletic training by Eddie Coppola of Seton Hall and Sam Martucci of Seton Hall Prep. He started out as a graduate assistant at Columbia University, where he was a teacher in the PE department for two years.
“Columbia was one of the best experiences I ever had in dealing with the students,” Errico said.
Along the way, there were stops working as an athletic trainer in Old Bridge, Pennsville, Elizabeth, Union, West Orange and Madison. He also covered games for the Morris County Secondary School Ice Hockey League.
A member of the National Athletic Trainers Association since 1969, Errico got a chance to work in national and international tournaments as an athletic trainer, including the Special Olympics and U.S. Blind Athletes Association.
“I even did a short stint with an AAU junior basketball team that went to Europe for two weeks, playing in Italy, Denmark, France, Sweden, and Greece,” he said.
Now that he has more free time, he will on keep in shape at the gym and continue hobbies such as growing vegetables as a member of the Morris County Park Commission Community Garden. The late Farmer Paul Suszczynski dubbed him “Chemical Al” because of the fertilizers he uses in his garden.
“They don’t call me Chemical Al for nothing,” he said. “My cabbage heads get to be 10 pounds. I’ve also grown tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and other vegetables.”
Since 2007, he was able to work on a per diem basis for a number of schools until the Chatham Board of Education added a part-time athletic trainer position. Errico had a short commute to Chatham High from his home on Pine Street.
“I want to thank the Chatham Board of Education and the parents of Chatham for allowing me to work with the athletes,” Errico said. “I really appreciated that. I want to especially thank Bill Librera and his assistant, Ginny Leslie, who treated me very professionally and I will consider them friends for the rest of my life.
“I also want to thank Mike Colavita, the athletic trainer at Chatham High for allowing me to work with him. He is one of the best athletic trainers that I know in the county and the state. I’m grateful that the Chatham coaching staff treated me professionally and as a friend.”
Chely Arias is already considered a hero just two months into her first job as a high school athletic trainer.
The North Las Vegas Fire Department credited Arias with saving a 17-year-old high school senior who collapsed Oct. 24 while warming up for a flag-football practice at Cheyenne High School.
“Her life was literally in my hands, and that’s a unique feeling to have,” Arias said shortly after a brief recognition ceremony held Wednesday in the school library. “Once you experience something like that, it changes your life.”
Arias couldn’t find a pulse when she aided Kennedi Jones just after 1:30 p.m. that day. The teen had stopped breathing and was unresponsive, prompting Arias to start CPR.
A flag football coach called 911 while a student retrieved one of the school’s three portable defibrillators from the gym.
Arias placed the automated external defibrillator pads on Jones’ chest, hoping an electrical shock would revive her. After three attempts, Jones finally had a pulse.
“It was devastating to walk up and see what was taking place at the time,” said Kimberly Jones, who arrived to watch Arias work on her daughter before paramedics arrived.
“As a mom, you never want to come to a scene and see things happen at that magnitude,” Kimberly Jones said. “She didn’t stop, she stayed focused and she was well-trained for this occasion.”
Jones was taken to University Medical Center, where she spent nearly two weeks in recovery. Like most teens, she just wanted to eat, walk around and go home. The teen said she didn’t have any previous medical problems and was enjoying her second year as a middle linebacker for the school’s intramural flag football team.
“I’m thankful because I could’ve died,” Jones quietly said. “She knew what she was doing. She saved my life.”
While presenting Arias with an accommodation plaque, North Las Vegas Fire Chief Joseph Calhoun said the athletic trainer’s effort demonstrated the need for more people to learn CPR and how to operate AED devices.
“Your actions and your quick thinking did an incredible thing,” Calhoun said. “It saved a young woman’s life for her to be able to grow up and become an adult and live a normal and happy life.”
Paul Cain feels like he can’t stress the importance of athletic trainers enough. That’s why the athletic director for School District 51 is pleased at how many resources the district has now.
“There’s a lot of value in what we have here,” said Cain, who is in his 17th year in the district. “These trainers impact so many lives, and it’s not just athletes. They’re going into classrooms, working with kids on fitness programs and even kids who simply want to lose weight. It’s something that needs support because it affects more than just athletes.”
The district now has three full-time trainers, which is an increase from the two trainers it had through the end of the 2016-17 school year. Cain was concerned at this time last year when the district was faced with the prospect of not having any trainers for the upcoming academic year.
Fundraising efforts and a little lobbying put the district in a better situation for the four District 51 high schools — Central, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction and Palisade.
“Ideally, we’d like to have a trainer at every high school,” Cain said. “But looking at this now compared to where we were a year ago, we’re definitely making the right kind of progress.”
Cain said he was told by officials at St. Mary’s Medical Center in August 2016 that the hospital would no longer provide athletic trainers to the school district due to budget restraints. That meant the two trainers the district had for the four high schools — Erin Glavan covered Fruita Monument and Grand Junction and Noah Larsen covered Central and Palisade — could be unemployed by the end of the 2016 calendar year and District 51 could be without athletic trainers for its high schools for the upcoming school year.
“Last year at this point was, well, a little worrisome,” Larsen said. “Erin and I love what we do and we love being around these kids. This is a service they really need.”
Cain started a fundraising campaign, reaching out to medical centers across the Grand Valley. Between Community Hospital, Rocky Mountain Orthopedics and St. Mary’s, Cain said the district raised $100,000 to not only extend the program through the end of 2016-17 school year, but also convince district administrators into making Glavan and Larsen full-time district employees.
Additionally, Jennifer Kimbrow was hired by Family Health West when it created a position for a full-time athletic trainer at Fruita Monument, leaving Glavan and Larsen to split time between Grand Junction, Central and Palisade.
“When we were at St. Mary’s, we were limited to 40 hours per week,” Larsen said. “So including the time we had to spend at the hospital, that left us only 15 hours per week to work at each school. You learn to do a lot of things quickly when you don’t have a lot of time.”
Larsen said the added time allows him to get to more sports, and even marching band. It also allows him to arrive at a school when classes are in session and work with students who aren’t involved with sports.
Even with the additional resources, District 51 still lags behind other Western Slope schools. Durango, which according to the Colorado High School Activities Association has an enrollment of 1,102, has two full-time athletic trainers, Larsen said. Coal Ridge, Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Grand Valley in Parachute, which have enrollments ranging from roughly 300 to 900 students, each have their own athletic trainers.
Kimbrow, a former Colorado Mesa basketball player who was hired out of graduate school from CU-Colorado Springs, got to work with athletic trainers throughout Colorado Springs. Each high school, she said, had at least one full-time athletic trainer on hand.
“It’s hard enough to keep up with one high school,” Kimbrow said. “It’s nice to be able to provide that level of service to these athletes, and it’s why I have a lot of respect for what Erin and Noah were able to do for as long as they did.”
Much like Colorado Springs, however, students in Colorado Mesa’s athletic training program this year are on hand to assist and shadow Larsen, Glavan and Kimbrow at football games and plenty of other sporting events. They’re there not only to help tape ankles before a game, but to provide assistance in case of a medical emergency.
“It was nice to see that our superintendent saw a value in this,” Cain said. “In the long term, this is something that affects all students and our district is better off.”
Article reposted from Marana News
Author: Christopher Boan
Leah Oliver walked into the cavernous gymnasium at Mountain View High School on a recent Thursday afternoon for what she thought was a run-of-the-mill meeting.
The longtime athletic trainer, who remembers the exact day she was hired by the district (Jan. 8, 1989), was instead met by a surprise she’ll never forget.
As she walked into the gym, 100 or so student-athletes sat quietly, playing their part in the orchestrated event—before a curtain separating the students from a procession of loved ones opened dramatically.
Behind the curtain sat a customized trainer’s chair, emblazoned with her name—which will soon be transfixed above the doors of the athletic training room she’s transformed into a sanctuary for students and student-athletes alike.
The once-quiet student body burst into applause, while Oliver embraced a long line of protégés and family members.
There were students from her early years, such as Pam Andrews, who was a pupil in Andrews’ first class in 1989.
It was a who’s-who of Mountain View alumnus, with former silver medal-winning Olympic swimmer Lacey Nymeyer John dropping in to honor one of her main mentors.
“I think when you look at great athletes, and you look at their coaches and you look at their teams, we often don’t think about the support staff,” Nymeyer John said. “And so many conversations are not on the court, and they aren’t in the locker room. It’s when you’re on the table, it’s when you’re broken down and Ms. O’s definitely that—she cared about her athletes.”
Tears were plentiful for all involved, as the woman that so many Mountain View students called ‘grandma’ made sure to get pictures with and swap stories with everyone in attendance.
The woman who found athletic training not by choice, but out of necessity—after two torn ACLs ended dreams of being a professional athlete in the tiny Southern Arizona enclave of Patagonia—will forever have her name associated with the school she helped build.
Oliver struggled to sum up how much the school’s dedication meant, expressing the kind of humility and grace that has built bonds over three decades of work.
“I don’t know what to say; there’s so many people that are worthy of it and it’s hard for me to accept it,” Oliver said. “But, the reason I would accept it is all the amazing students that have come through Mountain View. So, in a way, it’s a tribute to them and all of the great things that they’ve taught me and helped me with.”
Oliver’s list of achievements during her 28-year tenure are just as impressive: winning the Arizona Athletic Trainer of the Year Service Award from the Arizona Athletic Trainers Association in 2011, as well as MUSD’s Teacher of the Year Award.
Oliver was inducted into the Arizona Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame in 2013. She has also been named as one of 2017’s Top 10 teachers in the state by the Arizona Educational Foundation.
For the students Ask Oliver what she’s most proud of and her laundry list of awards and state and nationwide recognition will never come up.
Rather, what keeps Oliver going strong these days is the same as when she started many years ago: her students.
“No day’s the same,” she said. “I love sports, I love athletes, I love competition. But all of a sudden, I got a love for teaching too. Because originally that was not my plan. But I fell in love with spreading what I was passionate about with my students, and helping them find that passion for themselves too.”
It’s that love and dedication to the art of athletic training that stands out for her pupils, like senior Noah Richards.
Richards, like many in the Mountain View student body, is thrilled that Oliver’s name is forever etched on the training room edifice.
“She is everything to this school,” Richards said. “She’s provided so much of her time to our athletes and our students. Any time anyone needs something she’s always there for us. She’s imprinted in the school, and I’m so glad that the school actually did this for her.”
Caring for her students is nothing new for Oliver’s pupils, as Andrews remembers how much she did to help her through the years.
“She was lots of fun,” Andrews recalled. “She taught me a lot of stuff, helped me get a scholarship at NAU, and even kept in-touch with me when I was at NAU. She let me come home, when I was at NAU, she’d let me help during the wrestling tournaments and make sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to.”
Oliver wiped away tears as she described how much it meant to share her ceremony with her extended Mountain View family.
“When I saw some of them, that’s when I really started to cry,” Oliver said. “I could tell you stories, and I remember every one of them. The things we did, the things I learned from them, the ups, the downs—all the fun and watching them become adults—and they’re amazing adults.”
Javier Venegas, a 21-year-old distance runner for Golden West College, suddenly collapsed on the track one afternoon in late January.
He wasn’t breathing. He didn’t have a pulse.
Fortunately, Pat Frohn, a certified athletic trainer for Golden West, plus a Long Beach State athletic-training student, Tori Mulitauaopele, were in the Athletic Training Room and were called out to the track. They began CPR. It took two shocks from the automated external defibrillator (AED) to return Javier’s heartbeat.
The EMTs arrived and Venegas was rushed to the emergency room, where he was put into a medically induced coma. He is now recovered from what was determined to be a heart arrhythmia.
“If I wasn’t here, if there was no athletic trainer on staff, if this was any high school in the area?” Frohn said, “Javier would be dead.”
California has more than 800,000 high-schoolers playing sports, yet the state does not require schools to have athletic trainers at practices or games—and very few do. Just 25 percent of public high schools employ a full-time athletic trainer, according to CIF data from 2016-17 (athletic directors from 1,406 schools self-reported—an 88.6 percent rate).
This puts student-athletes at enormous risk. Among those working as athletic trainers in California high schools, 16.2 percent are not certified, according to CIF data.
“It’s a level of fraud,” said Brian Gallagher, director of sports medicine/certified athletic trainer at Harvard Westlake.
The CATA has been working on this issue for more than three decades. California Assemblymember Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills) has introduced Assembly Bill 1510, which would provide for the licensure and regulation of athletic trainers and establish the Athletic Trainer Licensing Committee within the California Board of Occupational Therapy. It would bar a person from practicing as an athletic trainer or using the title unless the person is licensed by the committee.
The bill is scheduled to be heard next at the California State Assembly and Senate at the beginning of 2018.
We’ve reached a tipping point. Or something worse: “It’s a crisis,” said Trenton Cornelius, coordinator for L.A. Unified School District’s Interscholastic Athletics Department.
Michael Boafo, a Redlands High football player, suffered a hit in a 2015 game against A.B. Miller High in Fontana.
Heather Harvey, a certified athletic trainer for Miller at the game, said Redlands’ athletic trainer called her over to help him with calling EMS for Boafo. She sprinted over and felt stunned, alleging that neither the athletic trainer nor other staff were monitoring Boafo’s vitals or checking his pulse as he laid face up on the sideline, unconscious.
“Is he breathing?” Harvey asked. She said she was assured that Boafo was “fine” and was simply experiencing “flu-like symptoms.”
Harvey took over care by assessing his vitals and level of consciousness while activating EMS. It seemed apparent to her and her team physician that this was more than Boafo simply being sick. While on the sidelines, Harvey said it was mentioned that Boafo had suffered a concussion earlier that season. Harvey was able to effectively monitor Boafo until paramedics arrived.
Later that night, Boafo ultimately underwent a five-hour brain surgery to address a bleed in his brain (the surgery was successful and he was able to make a full recovery). Harvey said Redlands’ athletic trainer did not know proper protocol.
The athletic trainer, still at Redlands, is not certified, according to the online registry of Board of Certification Certified Athletic Trainers.
“That was mismanaged,” Harvey said. “I hate seeing it and unfortunately, I see things like that on a regular basis at this point. Not necessarily the catastrophic injuries, but just knowing the people on the sideline might not be appropriate medical personnel.”
How many parents assume the athletic trainers in charge of their child’s safety are qualified to oversee his or her care?
Some athletic directors might not even be aware if their athletic trainer is certified or not, according to Mike Chisar, chair of the CATA Governmental Affairs Committee. “There’s nothing that mandates (certification) as part of the hiring criteria, the minimum qualifications, then (athletic directors) wouldn’t necessarily be looking for that,” Chisar said.
Sometimes well-meaning parents and volunteers assume the role, as do coaches, who are CPR and First Aid certified and must take a sport-specific concussion course and sudden cardiac arrest training. But these are not healthcare providers.
Imagine if Celtics coach Brad Stevens was tasked with tending to Gordon Hayward’s gruesome ankle injury on NBA opening day.
“You can’t cut someone’s hair in our state if you don’t have a professional license and qualifications,” Dababneh said. “We are much more stringent on someone that cuts your hair then someone that can make a decision about your kid’s health in an athletic competition, whether or not he can go back in the game, whether he needs medical treatment.”
Opposition for the bill mainly comes from the California Physical Therapy Association.
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed bills in 2014 and 2015 that would have required athletic trainers to be certified, reasoning the bills would require athletic trainers to attend college, which would “impose unnecessary burdens on athletic trainers without sufficient evidence that they are really needed.”
To understand why athletic trainers are needed, you have to understand who they are and what they do.
Athletic trainers are healthcare providers who focus on the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. They are not gym trainers or physical therapists or chiropractors.
“Most of us hold Masters degrees and have spent countless hours in clinical settings honing our craft,” said Kirsten Farrell, certified athletic trainer at Venice High School and 2018 California Teacher of the Year.
The CIF, which supports AB1510, is working to educate principals, superintendents and athletic directors on the importance of having athletic trainers. “We’ve got to make it a priority for our schools,” said Roger Blake, CIF’s Executive Director. “They need to see the human value in this.”
Injuries, concussions, heat stroke, cardiac arrest, can happen at any second and immediate response is critical.
Sierra Canyon faced Buena High in a junior-varsity football game on Aug. 31. Buena did not have an athletic trainer when one of its players went down with a hit. Fortunately Eric Dick, Sierra Canyon’s certified athletic trainer, was on site.
Dick asked the player if he had a headache or felt dizzy or nauseous. The player smiled but wasn’t responding. Dick told the player and his father to not wait, and walked them to their car. Dick asked the player to read the word “SCAN” on the stereo. He couldn’t formulate the words, mumbling and struggling. Eventually he got the words out, but it took far too long. Dick said they should go to the hospital immediately.
“The continual follow up over that time period, was only about five minutes. In those five minutes, he took such a big change in his behavior,” said Dick, who mentioned the importance of having an athletic trainer to make decisions about when it is safe for an athlete to return to play, as those decisions have long-lasting health consequences.
Dick works at a private school — but what about public schools?
LAUSD is a large district of 150 schools and more than 52,000 athletes and comprises the L.A. City Section. Yet only 13 percent of schools of schools that reported in this Section have athletic trainers.
Some are funded by non-profits, such as the West Coast Sports Medicine Foundation or Team Heal Foundation. Alex Merriman, Dorsey High’s certified athletic trainer, is one of them.
She oversees the Dons’ 23 teams on her own, though she has student athletic-training aides to help out. She works 60 hours on what she calls a “good” week and 70-75 hours on a “bad” week (one that involves more injuries and treatment). As devoted as she is, she cannot make every single game, especially with two to three sports going on during one season.
“You have to be really passionate about what you do in this field,” Merriman said. “There are plenty of days where I want to quit and give up and find another job somewhere else, but I remember all the kids that we care for here. What would they be doing if I wasn’t here?”
CIF data indicates that both public and private suffer from a shortage of athletic trainers. However, some of the lower socioeconomic sections (Oakland, L.A. City, Northern) report only 9 to 13 percent of schools having a certified athletic trainer. More affluent sections (San Diego, Southern, San Francisco) report having the largest percentage of schools having an athletic trainer at 60 to 77 percent.
What will it take for students to be protected?
“I don’t want this to become a reactionary story where, God forbid, another student is injured or hurt badly or their health is compromised,” Dababneh said. “Then everybody says: ‘Well why didn’t we do this already?’”
Alyse Grillot has made a positive impact in her first year as Greenville’s Athletic Trainer.
“I’m here for those kids,” said Grillot. “I want to see them succeed and I want to see them play as much as possible.”
After a football season that kept many Green Wave players on the sideline, Grillot often had to make the call to rest a player for a week or more.
“I hate the fact that I had to hold a bunch of kids out of football this season,” Grillot said. “I always say I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately that’s part of my job. It’s hard sometimes to have to tell a parent or a coach especially with football – the number of injuries.”
The Michigan native graduated from Ithica High School and attended Indiana’s Anderson University, graduating in 2012.
Grillot is married to Rob Grillot, a Versailles High School alum now teaching third grade at Bradford where he serves as the Railroaders varsity track and cross country coach.
Grillot began employment with Wayne HealthSports at Mississinawa Valley schools and transferred to Greenville in the summer of 2017.
Grillot has hit the ground running, while adjusting to sports offerings including boys/girls soccer and girls tennis not offered at MVHS. The Green Wave football program also has more athletes participating which means more helmet checks, more preseason evaluations and IMPACT testing.
“I really do like the kids,” Grillot said. “I think it is important to establish a relationship with them, that’s a trust factor. They come to me with injuries and they trust me to get them back to play or they trust me to say, if I tell them they cannot play it’s usually a pretty significant injury.”
“Wrestling and swimming will be new sports for Alyse to cover this winter,” said Jim Beyke, Director of Wayne HealthSports Rehab Services. “We also anticipate a busy spring with the completion of the track complex at GHS. Greenville can be challenging in the spring because baseball, softball, and track are spread apart at different locations. That is when we supplement coverage with our casual staff or pull one of our trainers in from a surrounding school.”
“The great thing is that all of our Athletic Trainers work very well together and help each other during busy times or with multiple events,” added Beyke.
“Jim (Beyke) is a great guy,” Grillot said. “This is the best administration I have ever had. The support that I have received from Jim has been incredible. There is communication there – there is support.”
“Alyse covered the Treaty City Invitational this fall which attracted 1400 runners from the Miami Valley,” Beyke stated. “Alyse is very organized and is a hard worker. She has enjoyed the challenge of covering our largest school. Alyse has been meeting a lot of new coaches and athletes. It takes time to develop relationships and the feedback has been very positive from coaches, athletes, and parents.”
“Greenville seems like a really good fit for me,” said Grillot. “I feel so much appreciation and that can be rare for an athletic trainer.”
With the 2017 football season now in the book, Grillot weighed in on the final game of the season – a cold night with a continual pouring rain and strong wind.
“It was awful Friday night,” said Grillot. “I couldn’t feel my feet, couldn’t feel my face and when I had to cut tape off of players and I couldn’t feel my hands…it puts a damper on my mood but I have to be there regardless of the weather, whether it’s snowing or sleeting sideways – I’ll be there for the kids.”
Grillot entered college not knowing what she wanted to do until she was in a freshman at Anderson and narrowed it down to Exercise Science or Athletic Training.
“It’s a lot of work but I wouldn’t change my job,” Grillot said of her choice of Athletic Trainer. “It’s so much fun – I get to watch sports and get paid for it. I like helping people and being compassionate. It’s pretty awesome.”
The Wayne HealthSports program includes Versailles, Greenville, Ansonia, Tri Village, Mississinawa Valley and Franklin Monroe schools.
Article reposted from Go Skagit
Author: VINCE RICHARDSON
Melanie Dalpias’ office may be small; however, the services she provides for Sedro-Woolley High School are big.
Dalpias, employed by Northwest Physical Therapy, recently contracted with the Sedro-Woolley School District to provide not only athletic training services for its student-athletes, but also to instruct a class as part of the high school’s Career/Technical Education (CTE) course of study.
Dalpias’ office — or rather her training room — consists of several taping tables, a small ice machine and plenty of cabinets and counter space.
Granted, it’s cozy, but the space provides a much-in-demand service, one that Sedro-Woolley athletic director Jerry Gardner had wanted to offer for some time.
Gardner, along with high school CTE Director Wes Allen and Megan Douglas, president of Northwest Physical Therapy, combined their efforts to provide what each saw as a mutually beneficial service: a certified full-time athletic trainer.
Mount Vernon is the only other high school in the valley with a full-time trainer.
“We had a lot of informational conversations,” Gardner said. “We talked with Megan along with Peter Janicki (who also works at Northwest Physical Therapy) in regards to exactly what a program like this would look like; how things would work between the Sedro-Woolley School District and Northwest Physical Therapy. But this partnership has been ideal.”
“We needed to support it all with education-based classes,” Allen said. “Plus, those students needed after-school clinical time. That is part of the requirement. Students have to complete work outside of school.
“We built a great partnership with the superintendent, the school board and with an outside business that wanted to be involved with this.”
Douglas said the clinic had been looking for just this sort of partnership.
“It’s fun for us to grow with Sedro-Woolley, and to be a part of this program,” she said. “Above all else, it’s great to be able to offer this service to the kids.”
Douglas said the clinic had worked with the school in the past, in regards to senior projects and necessary volunteer hours. Once the specifics were in place, the wheels of progress began to turn, and it didn’t take long for momentum to build.
“It came together fast,” Gardner said. “We posted a job opening for the position in mid- to late July and added the class to the schedule.”
In its rookie season, the course proved to be popular.
“We scheduled the Level I Sports Medicine class as a science elective,” Allen said, “and we had 186 kids signed up before we even had an instructor. We got that down to 65-70 kids and made it work.”
Gardner said from the beginning there was a lot of interest, which has continued to grow.
“The students were definitely excited about it,” he added. “And it has been well received by our coaches. Our coaches are really happy with the program.”
The position, much like the class, proved popular. Dalpias, who holds a number of degrees in the field including a Masters, proved to be the ideal candidate.
“We had a lot of interest,” Douglas said. “No one had the experience or the educational background that Melanie did … she was the perfect fit at both Northwest Physical Therapy as well as the high school.
“Melanie is employed full-time with us and we contract the hours out to the school. We are still experimenting with the procedures and time, it varies. But we are getting a good snapshot of how it’s going to work. This fall, it has been crazy.”
Allen said that Dalpias handled what was a rather quick learning curve.
“This class was obviously not for the college-level,” he said. “But it is for high school kids who have an interest in athletic training and want to get a start. Melanie has done a great job endeavoring to do just that. It’s a good fit for her and for our students’ skill set. It is still a work in progress.”
Dalpias has been busy, on the sidelines as well as inside both the training and class rooms.
“I’ve worked on making some changes to the concussion protocol, along with other injury-related issues,” she said. “It has been busy.”
Shawn Mathiews knew he wanted to be an athletic trainer when he was a student at Baylor University in the early 2000s. However, the sight of the two hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center’s towers on Sept. 11, 2001, led him to leave the life of a college student behind and join the U.S. Army.
“My best friend, he was in the Air Force ROTC at Baylor and I remember waking up one morning and walking to class and his apartment was on the way,” recalled Mathiews, who works for Huntsville Memorial Sports Medicine and is contracted to work as an assistant athletic trainer at Huntsville High School.
“His door was open,” Mathiews added, “so I would always go in and say hi to him. He said to come in and I watched the second plane hit the tower. I got pretty pissed off. I started, in my mind, going, ‘America needs to get back at these people,’ and all that kind of stuff. Then I realized I was wanting other people to do it. So I decided, ‘I’ll go do it myself.’ I went to the recruiter and got in line.”
Mathiews initially wanted to join one of the U.S. special operations forces, but a knee injury kept him from doing that.
Having seen his roommate join the military as a lab technician, Mathiews decided to apply to become a lab technician, even though he knew nothing about what the job entailed.
After working as a lab technician for about four years, Mathiews became a medic who specialized as a physical therapy technician — which he strived to be when he joined the U.S. Army — and was deployed to Afghanistan.
Stationed at a forward operating base in Paktika Province, which is located in a Southeastern portion of Afghanistan that Taliban forces used as a major route to enter the country from Pakistan, Mathiews treated gruesome injuries inflicted upon his comrades.
“Our (area) was not the worst, but it was a pretty bad area just because we had those people coming through,” Mathiews said. “I’ve seen a lot of horrific things, obviously a lot of blast wounds, a lot of burn wounds, some white phosphorous wounds.”
In the midst of the horrors of war, Mathiews would find joy in helping his fellow soldiers and the local civilians recover from their injuries and ailments, particularly the local children whose lives were impacted by the violence.
“When you’re surrounded by the crap that adults do … then you get the kids in and the kids are pretty much pure, you get to see that little bit of humanity,” Mathiews said.
“When the world is falling apart around you, (it’s comforting) to a see a child who doesn’t judge you or hate you yet — I say yet because a good majority end up hating you. But you get to see (the innocence) from them and you can kind of lower your guard. You give them Popsicles and suckers and they think you’re the coolest person in the world. It’s that window of humanity in the fog of war that keeps you sane.”
Mathiews was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 2011.
Mathiews’ wife Virginia, a teacher at Huntsville’s Stewart Elementary School, convinced him to go back to school while he was in Afghanistan, though he had to start as a freshman again because the degree plan he had been working through at Baylor was no longer offered. He earned his bachelor’s degree from UT-Arlington in May of 2013 before joining Huntsville ISD in August of that year.
The training Mathiews received and the knowledge he acquired during his time in the military prepared him well for helping high school athletes avoid and recover from injuries.
“One of the biggest advantages of having (military) experience in this field is I know what’s going to kill you and I know when things are dangerous,” Mathiews said. “I also know when (an athlete) needs to suck it up.
“We have a unique job being athletic trainers because in the medical field, you do what’s best for the patient. In athletic training, you do what’s best for patient while still trying to help them compete. (When) somebody rolls an ankle, the safest thing for them is to not run on it. In our field, we’re trying to get you to run on it, so we’ll tape you together and all that kind of stuff.”
Mathiews said his military experience makes his job challenging at times, however, as he has to be more patient with high school athletes who aren’t able to tolerate the same pain a soldier trained for the harshest conditions can.
“I know the capabilities of the human body and sometimes I apply that to the kids unfairly,” Mathiews said. “Sometimes my expectations are a little out of whack with what they are capable of. I’ve got to remind myself sometimes that these are kids.”
With Saturday being Veterans Day, Mathiews encourages relatives and friends of veterans to get together with them this weekend and let them know how important they are.
Mathiews knows the difficulties veterans face when readjusting to civilian life. Simply taking time to talk with former soldiers can make a huge difference in their lives.
“It’s a day for civilians and veterans to celebrate those who have and are serving, but you can’t get away from the reminder of your friends (you served with),” Mathiews said.
“I usually spend most of the day just calling friends because we have 22 veterans a day killing themselves, including several hundred that I call friends. I call all my friends and make sure that they’re doing OK, get a beer with them and invite them over for a barbecue, just to make sure they’re not alone.”
Before an early October meeting between two winless high school football teams, Bowsher athletic trainer Meghan Gregoire wraps tape around wrists and ankles.
Before its game against Rogers, the Bowsher bench buzzed with anything from political debates to pop culture references. The Rebels also watched their opponents warm up, speculating about who would take over at quarterback for the Rams.
“I don’t care who it is,” one defensive lineman said. “I’m going to add him to my highlight reel.”
In the middle of the trash talk and miscellaneous conversation was Gregoire, now a student at the University of Toledo. She’s been with the Rebels’ athletic program since August and will stay until the end of next year, when she graduates with a master’s degree in exercise science.
Two minutes before kickoff, she anxiously stretched and paced. She gets nervous right before every game, after all the players are wrapped, stretched, and she’s met with the opposing team’s athletic trainer.
“No amount of training can prepare you for everything,” Gregoire said. “You can never be ready for every possibility.”
That’s not to say Gregoire doesn’t enjoy her job.
Gregoire trades barbs with the players, who she refers to as her “little brothers.” But there certainly are some responsibilities she finds less than ideal, such as stalking the sideline looking for players who are hurt but avoiding eye contact so that Gregoire doesn’t pull them from the game.
“It’s definitely important [to bond] because some of these kids, I wouldn’t know they were hurt unless I knew who they were,” Gregoire said. “A lot of times, they won’t come to you and tell you they’re hurt. It’s the way they act or the way they don’t act.
“You really just become part of the team. I honestly could tell you that they couldn’t get through a day without me.”
There’s also dealing with a player after an injury threatens his season. Gregoire understands the sensitivity to this process firsthand, as the former softball standout suffered a career-ending knee injury in high school. A doctor talked her through the grieving process, and he still remains her inspiration for her career choice.
Walter Windless, a junior defensive lineman who was sidelined all season by a torn meniscus, followed Gregoire along the sideline as she surveyed the field for injured players. They shared a brutal conversation in August about being unable to play this year, but she helped him through the grieving process.
“I kind of shut down because I just started to play more,” Windless said. “I thought I let down my team. She lifted me up as a player. I can’t wait to have her back next year, hopefully to some better results.”
Other kids in younger years had toyed with conventional ideas of what they wanted to be when they grew up – a firefighter, a doctor, a police officer, a nurse – but as teens they felt little pressure to decide which career path to choose.
JT Gallegos just knew.
He had always known, at least as far back as he can remember, at least as far back as that moment he threw his first football – which, his mother says, was about the same time he learned to walk.
“Since he was little, he has lived and breathed football,” grandmother Liz Martinez says. “JT plays basketball, too, but for him it was always football.”
Maybe that’s not surprising for a kid who grew up – way up – as the tallest and biggest kid in the class. He seemed made for the sport.
Sometimes, though, things don’t go as planned. Sometimes, the path we choose takes an unexpected turn.
So it was for JT. He’s 15 now, a hulking 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore on both the Rio Rancho High School junior varsity and varsity teams. On Sept. 25, he played his last game ever.
No one had seen that turn coming.
It was the fourth quarter of a home JV game against Volcano Vista High School, and the Rio Rancho Rams were down 32-47. JT had the ball and was running it back after a kickoff when he was tackled.
It wasn’t a particularly harsh tackle, as those things go, but it left JT feeling dizzy and his head hurt.
Still, when it was time to get back onto the field, he did.
That’s when he blacked out, clutching onto a teammate to help soften his fall facedown on the field.
He couldn’t move.
Parents Angie and Jason Gallegos and grandmother Martinez watched with horror in the stands.
“We were confused because there wasn’t a play,” his mother says. “We didn’t know what had happened to make him fall like that.”
As a young player, JT had been taught that unless he was really hurt he needed to “pop up” from the field right away after being knocked down so as not to freak out his mother.
This time, he couldn’t. And his mother freaked out.
“I kept saying, ‘He’s not popping up! He’s not popping up!’ ” she says.
So she did, racing down to the field with her husband not far behind.
As she made her way down, coach Jason Vance and athletic trainer Colby Aragon were gently easing JT onto his back. What they saw caused them to immediately grab their cellphones.
JT was taken by ambulance to Presbyterian Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho, where for four hours he was unable to move more than a slight wiggle of a toe or a finger. His mother held his hand and tried not to cry.
In the hospital waiting room, dozens of football players, most still in their jerseys, the coaching staff, family and friends tried not to cry, too. They prayed.
By morning, TJ had regained his mobility, his injuries likely the result of a severe concussion and a spinal neck sprain from the previous tackle – or so his family thought.
After TJ was transferred to the University of New Mexico Hospital, further testing revealed a diagnosis that was far worse – os Odontoideum, a rare condition in which a small finger-like projection, called the odontoid process, from the second cervical vertebra in the neck is missing or malformed. The odontoid process keeps the first vertebra aligned and able to pivot. Without it, the underlying spinal cord is at risk.
So insidious is the condition that it is typically not diagnosed until after the patient is permanently paralyzed or dead.
“The surgeon says it was a miracle we found it this way,” Angie Gallegos says. “They’re surprised something worse didn’t happen sooner, given the sports JT has played.”
But, oh, what a cruel twist. That last tackle likely saved JT’s life, but it also took away a large part of it. Because of his condition, doctors have told him he must never play contact sports.
That includes football.
That, his mother says, has been hard to take. A teenager with his feet already firmly on a chosen path is not easily consolable.
“It hurts to think he will never step out on that field again,” she says. “We keep telling him God has a better plan for him. But right now it’s hard for him to see past football.”
This Sunday, a fundraiser featuring food and football will be held for JT and his family to defray medical costs. The JT Gallegos Youth Football Jamboree, as the event is being called, will feature four games between teams in the Northern New Mexico Children’s Football League, including the Punishers, the name of the team JT played on in his younger days.
Weeks from now, he will undergo a procedure to have his top two vertebrae fused together to stabilize his spine. Surgery is set for Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving.
Until then, he must wear a neck brace, even when he sleeps and showers.
He did not want to talk for this column.
He has lost what he wanted, but he still has the movement of his hands, the stride of his legs, the spirit of a champion, even though it may not feel that way just now.
What he still has is a life upright and time for new dreams, a new path. Someday TJ will know that. He will just know.