Their names are rarely noted and if you never see them on the field or court, it’s been a good night. That means no one has gotten hurt and no one has needed extra attention.
But athletic trainers, also known as ATs, are vital to the health and well-being to athletes at all levels and their work is being recognized in March, which is National Athletic Training Month.
There are three primary providers for athletic trainers to DeSoto County public schools. They are OrthoMemphis, which works with DeSoto Central and Hernando; Campbell Clinic, servicing Southaven, Horn Lake and Center Hill, and Cornerstone Rehabilitation which supplies trainers to Olive Branch, Lewisburg and Lake Cormorant.
“The county gives an allotment to each high school and middle school to go out and secure their own services,” said athletic trainer Christopher Smith, who works with Hernando athletic teams.
Owen Golden, who has worked with Horn Lake for 12 years, said when dealing with athletes and their bumps and bruises, trainers can treat where they can but refer on when the injury requires further treatment, adding that communication between athlete, parents, coaches and doctors is vital.
“We’re a liaison with the parents and doctors as well as coaches,” said Golden. “We’re kind of the middle man between all of it.”
“We’re in it to make sure the kids are making the right choices and to see them succeed,” added Brooks Turner, athletic trainer for DeSoto Central. “There’s a time and place where you need some kind of intervention. That’s when we fit that gap. We’re always going to be an advocate for the athlete.”
Working with the different coaches, as well as the athletes, means athletic trainers need to do more than just tape up ankles. Part of the trainer’s responsibility is to tell both coach and athlete when they can, or cannot play.
“I’ve been very lucky,” Smith said. “I’ve worked at Olive Branch and the last three years at Hernando. (Football) Coach (Will) Wolfe has always been good about pulling me in as one of the family. As long as I communicate it to him effectively he’s going to be happy with it.”
“I have 100 percent autonomy from my coaches,” Golden added, “I know it’s not like that for everybody and I’m in kind of a unique situation where they may complain, but if I say a kid’s not going, he’s not going.”
“If we have to take a kid out of a game, and I say he’s out, then he’s just out,” said Turner. “I know that for at least half of the football games, I’m going to have a doctor there and all the time I have a doctor at the end of my phone. He will make the call and at that point, pretty much, what the coach says doesn’t matter.”
Athletic trainers can take different paths to their post. An injury in high school, for instance, led Golden to gain interest in the field.
“I tore my ACL in my junior year, tore my knee up and worked with an athletic trainer that covered a lot of schools and covered us,” Golden said. “I started talking with him about what he did and it really interested me. I went to Delta State on a recruiting trip with a buddy who was there on a trip for football and while they had me there they took me down and I met with their head athletic trainer.”
“In high school, I was an athlete,” Smith added. “I got hurt and had a couple of injuries, a couple of separate knee injuries that sidelined me for most of my senior year of playing.”
“I did this in high school,” said Turner. “That worked its way to a scholarship at the University of Memphis and I just stayed that route.”
Smith said he looks forward to those moments when what he does with an athlete puts them in a position to succeed.
“If you get them back in, whether it’s a long-term injury and they come back and they do really great or if it’s something minor in a game and you’re on the spot, you tape them really quick and they go back in and make a big play,” Smith said. “In those situations where you do something at that moment that gets them back in and they make that big play, you helped them get back into that position.”
“It’s a very thankless job but I knew that going in,” said Golden. “I was warned early on that the pay’s not going to be great and the coaches are going to hate you.”
“A doctor said once, ‘athletic trainers are the most overworked, underpaid people in the medical profession' for what we do,” said Turner. “They put in the long hours, they have to make the on-the-spot call and then make the follow up.’”
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.