The Shenandoah Valley-Herald (Woodstock, VA)
Beyond The Sideline
Shenandoah County Sheds Its Training Wheels In Third Year With Full-Time Athletic Trainers
John Galle, Shenandoah Valley-Herald, May 8, 2008
Two years ago, local high school coaches had to play doctor.
Since hiring athletic trainers, Shenandoah County student-athletes have been placed in better hands — and all parties are happier.
"We take the stress off the coaches," Strasburg athletic trainer Abbie Hansberger said.
Introducing Teresa Martilik of Central High School, Danny Carroll of Stonewall Jackson and Hansberger. The trio of athletic trainers in Shenandoah County have come from various backgrounds, but they are all like family in the big fraternity that is athletic training.
"And we all communicate well," she added.
When they aren't sharing lesson plans, they're usually taping, icing, wrapping, splinting and supplying high school athletes with whatever they need.
There's no injury too gruesome. There's no piece of cartilage they can't identify. Martilik, Carroll and Hansberger are the superheroes of the sidelines. And often, they fly completely under the radar of the spectators.
"Personally, I'd rather go unnoticed at a competition," said Carroll, a first-year athletic trainer at Stonewall who began in January. "If people don't see me out on the field, that's when people know things are good and hopefully everyone is happy."
Rehabilitation also goes on behind the scenes. When a Central High School runner tweaks an ankle at track practice after school, he/she goes to see Martilik — a second-year athletic trainer at CHS. Then, the next day, that athlete would probably stop by the training room for lunchtime treatment between 11:20 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. This treatment period is so popular that some athletes will find any excuse possible to attend.
"They just like to come in and tell me about their day," said Hansberger. "So, if they can think of anything to buy them a pass to come in, they do. They'll even make up an injury that you can see right through."
Additional tape, ice or treatment would then be made available — for those who need it — after school, prior to practices or games.
If that wasn't enough, the athletic trainers also operate free physicals at the school in cooperation with local hospitals.
And the cycle goes on.
A day in the life
An athletic trainer's day starts at 11 a.m. and ends anywhere between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., depending on when practices and games end. Game days tend to keep them on duty past 9:30 p.m. One time, Hansberger accompanied an injured student-athlete to the emergency room and finished her night around 2 a.m.
"But that was a rare situation," she explained.
And getting a Saturday off is another rare situation for athletic directors. It's a blessing when there are no athletic events scheduled on the weekend. Martilik, for instance, could harldy contain her excitement as she was preparing for her first Saturday off in seven weeks.
"I'm just really happy I don't have to be in until 11," said Martilik, who evidently is not a morning person.
Still, despite odd hours, the consensus amongst the athletic trainers in Shenandoah County is that it's all worth it.
"What else can I say, I get paid to watch sports," Carroll said.
And whether it's seeing a rehabilitation successfully through or educating students about the injury process in their classes, athletic trainers said the kids provide all the excitement and entertainment to keep them lively and on their toes.
"They have so much energy that it makes whatever situation we're in OK," said Hansberger.
"Standing in the rain during a football game can be one of the most unpleasant situations, because they start to smell bad," she added.
But then a player would belly-flop into a mud puddle, causing smiles to crack and laughter to erupt along the sideline. The rain wasn't so bad after that.
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it
Having athletic trainers has significantly lessened the rehabilitation time for student-athletes in Shenandoah County with faster, on-site professional care. However, sometimes in cases of serious injury, trainers have to be the bearer of bad news.
"One of the toughest parts of our job is having to tell an athlete who is eager to play that they can't because of an injury," said Martilik.
Telling athletes they can't compete is difficult, because they have passion for the game. The high school sports atmosphere, according to Hansberger, is great in that regard compared to college and the pros, where athletes are either playing for money or preparing to.
"These kids have such big hearts that they want to keep going even when their bodies won't allow them to," said Hansberger.
Seniors, especially those preparing for sports in college, tend to be affected the most by a serious injury. Hansberger dealt with a senior at Strasburg who suffered a career-ending injury. She wasn't allowed to disclose any details.
"It was just devastating," said Hansberger. "So much of a psychological factor plays into the whole emotional well-being of an athlete. It even affects their personality."
The saying goes that there's no crying in baseball — or sports, for that matter. And crying doesn't buy any sympathy with Hansberger, as indicated by the "no whining" sign posted just outside her office. However, when a serious injury forces an athletic trainer to deliver bad news to an athlete that keeps them off the field for months at a time, tears can come into play for both trainer and athlete.
"It's very hard," said Hansberger. "I've cried multiple times with athletes. But you just have to move on and let the situation resolve itself."
The wacky world of sports
Even as young athletic trainers, Martilik, Carroll and Hansberger have seen it all, in terms of injuries.
It was Martilik's first day on the job at a football practice when suddenly a wide receiver came up to her with a slight problem after attempting a catch.
"I think you might have to do something about this," he had told her.
Martilik stared down at his pinky finger to find that the second knuckle down had popped out sideways. The incident wasn't something she expected on the first day, but she soon realized football was an injury-prone sport.
"With football I get to know the athlete's parents pretty quickly," said Martilik. "Usually, [some injury] happens every day."
"Sometimes physical education is more dangerous than football," she added.
Hansberger, who will be working her fifth summer as the New Market Rebels athletic trainer, has seen some grisly injuries in her career too. This year alone, she's witnessed a dislocated elbow during boys basketball season and a dislocated patella (knee cap) during soccer. Though both were equally gruesome, Hansberger said the soccer injury left an impression on her that she won't soon forget.
"I've never seen a patella dislocated quite that far," she said. "It was outside the knee. I saw the true knee joint where the tibia and femur meet."
"It was a good one," Hansberger sarcastically added about the dislocation.
Finally, what injury list would be complete without the occasional cause of farm animals. Yes, farm animals.
"One of the more interesting things that can always add a surprise to my day is some of the ways athletes get hurt off the field or court," said Carroll of his experiences in previous years and this year at Stonewall. "A good number of those [injuries] can involve barnyard animals."
In his career, Carroll has dealt with a player sustaining a concussion from being thrown off a horse, a player being kicked by a calf, and other athletes having their feet stomped on by cow or horse hooves.
Athletic trainers may not have a whole lot of time to relax with such oddities happening, however they do have to get athletes to relax when evaluating them. Sometimes this task is as easy as suggesting a few deep breathes. Other times, it can be trickier.
One night, Hansberger had a girls' soccer injury and couldn't get the player to relax. Deep breaths didn't work. Nothing seemed to work. Eventually, perhaps with the slight loss of dignity, Hansberger's conversation skills on the sideline got the job done.
"I was talking to her and somehow we got on the topic of jello," explained Hansberger, who quickly learned the player's favorite flavor. "Then I thought, the coaches around me must think I'm insane."
Teaching side to the coin
The way the curriculum is currently setup in Shenandoah County, all three local high schools can provide two sports medicine courses — one in the fall and, usually, an advanced course in the spring. And the responsibility for teaching those classes rests in the athletic trainer's job descriptions.
When Hansberger got her bachelor's degree in athletic training at Bridgewater College, she never imagined having to teach.
Now, she's taking education classes to improve her teaching skills after falling in love with that part of the position as well.
Martilik, on the other hand, had always wanted to teach ever since she was in an athletic training class offered at her high school. But she was inspired to make her student's experience better than hers was.
"The focus was too much on [anatomy]," Martilik said of her sports medicine class at Franklin County High School. "It wasn't as fun or interesting. And they will learn that stuff anyways if they pursue athletic training in college."
"I try to focus on things they can't get anywhere else," she added.
All three local high schools in Shenandoah County offer sports medicine classes as electives.
All students at Central and Strasburg get to be certified in Red Cross CPR and First Aid. Carroll plans to integrate the certification at Stonewall next year, he said.
A large majority of the students who sign up for the class are student-athletes, however the addition of the sports medicine electives in local high schools truly benefits any student's education. Athletes, though, have clear interests in the subject matter as it greatly affects what they do in sports.
In an age when the Virginia High School League requires steroid education, athletic training teachers also touch on other valuable subjects like nutrition.
When the Mitchell Report — Major League Baseball's crackdown on steroids — broke ground in mid-December of 2007, Hansberger had her students watch it on television as a class.
Not having the class mandated by Standards of Learning (SOLs) allows for the trainers to teach more freely on material that most interests their students.
"We watch sports movies and sportscenter to talk about preventative topics," said Martilik.
At Central, students also have a research project. This past fall, the project included common injuries and an emergency reaction plan. And in the advanced classes, Martilik takes a more hands-on approach.
"They'll actually rehab a student athlete as one of their projects," she said.
Shenandoah County students also have to do 20 mandatory training hours outside of class on the sidelines with their athletic trainer.
"The kids who shadowed me during football really learned a lot," said Hansberger. "You never have enough help on a football sideline."
Of the students who don't participate in sports or don't wish to pursue sports as a career, some may choose to carry the torch to keep sports medicine thriving in high schools by becoming athletic trainers themselves. In fact, some are already well on their way.
"The student-athletes are very interested in how they can rehab and prevent injury," said Martilik. "And they are educating their classmates and teammates too."
Contact John Galle at 459-4078 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008, Shenandoah Valley-Herald, All Rights Reserved.
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