At any given high school sporting event the ever growing presence of athletic trainers on the sidelines is progressing to an all time high.
Though not a state law, Elk Lake, Lackawanna Trail, and Tunkhannock Area school districts employ certified athletic trainers.
Athletic trainers (ATs) are health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.
Elk Lake’s Tim Jayne, Trail’s Elaine Kimmel, and Tunkhannock’s Charlotte Carpenter tackle the role of athletic trainers for the Warriors, Lions, and Tigers.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of athletic trainers is projected to grow 21 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.
As people become more aware of sports-related injuries at a young age, demand for athletic trainers is expected to increase.
Jayne knew from the a young age what his career plan was to be. He simply had an interest in both athletics and medicine, and wanted to specialize in the field.
Carpenter was a pre-med student at Juniata College when a friend who was a student trainer needed some help. “It was a job on campus, and I enjoyed it. I decided not to go to med school but went back for athletic training. Here we are,” she said.
“I-unfortunately- was witness to a lot of injuries with my family and friends, and I have always had an interest in the human body,” explained Kimmel. “I just put two and two together. I was curious as to how the process went- how to approach, treat, rehab, and clear an athlete.”
After talking with her high school athletic trainer in her sophomore year at Blue Mountain High School, it sparked something.
In a recent study conducted by the Korey Stringer Institute and supported by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, 70 percent of secondary schools in this country employ the services of an athletic trainer.
The study also showed 24 percent of schools have no medical coverage at public secondary school sports games, while 30 percent bring in a medical doctor or emergency medical technician for all games.
But an AT’s real job is to prevent emergencies by monitoring players’ health throughout the season and making sure preventative measures are taken.
“It shouldn’t take a catastrophic event to begin preparedness,” Andy Smith, head athletic trainer and clinical instructor at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, said.
All three ATs agree that collisions and impact sports need the highest level of attention.
Jayne said, “Every season has its challenges, and generally that includes football. Elk Lake doesn’t have a football team, so here the sports that keep me active are soccer, wrestling, and baseball.”
Kimmel has the same view at Trail, saying, “In my opinion, the level of contact is a great factor. In the fall, we are attentive to the football players with the contact, heat, pads, overall the football players need more one on one.”
“Wrestling is a close third,” said Carpenter. “At Tunkhannock, because of the level of impact, first would be football, followed by boys lacrosse. In wrestling, though the impact and collision levels are lower, they are in awkward positions and you never know what will happen.”
During the school day, all three ATs prepare for the afternoon’s and evening’s slate of games and practices. A typical day starts between 1 and 2 p.m.
Though the uniforms are different, all three schools follow the same procedures. The ATs maintain first aid kids, and prepare for away contests.
All athletes who need to be taped or wrapped start arriving at about 2 p.m., depending on game times and bus dismissals.
“We try not to take students out of classes unless absolutely needed. They are student-athletes, with the student part coming first. We try to take them out of study halls if they need attention,” said Carpenter.
Jayne, Kimmel, and Carpenter all also use this time to check in with the coaching staff to make sure everyone follows the same game plan with clearances and evaluations.
For home games, the trainers are on site, coordinating multiple sports coverage at their respective high school.
Kimmel and Carpenter also travel with the team to away football games.
As for neutral site games, as well as big venue playoff game sites such as Mohegan Sun for basketball and PNC Field for baseball, only Carpenter has had the privilege to travel.
“I try to go to all the playoff games, neutral site or away, This year I was at all the softball games. The PIAA district officials provide trainers, and they have contacted me to be the trainer on site since they knew I was going to be with the team anyway,” she explained.
Every winter, Tunkhannock high school hosts a large wrestling tournament that has been going on for more than 40 years.
Carpenter is always on hand for the multi-day event, but since the mats spill into two locations, hosting between 20 and 30 teams annually, she has called Jayne in for help.
“Tim has come in to be in the cafeteria on day one. I am able to stay in the gym. Then when teams and wrestlers are eliminated, and we go to one location, I go on from there. But we all work together, and help each other out,” said Carpenter.
Jayne commented that the job is a female-driven profession, and sadly a lot of women have to leave the profession to start families. “More often than not, the kids are at school unless you can get help from others,” he added.
Working second shift does take its toll on the AT’s personal lives.
Jayne says, “You adapt. I have very young kids, and they are very involved with the sports teams at Elk Lake and my work. They are a valuable part of our Warrior family, we have seamlessly made it our family lifestyle.”
“It is really hard for me to think about how it affected my family, since I have built my life around the job. It has been my life for so long, we adjusted. The only difficult part has been trying to watch my own kids play. For example, if I am at a football game, I can’t always get to a soccer game,” agreed Carpenter.
Kimmel sides with her counterparts, saying it isn’t a typical 9-5 job, and time management is huge. She also cites planning week by week as a major help.
Carpenter said, “A lot of people look at athletic trainers as we are just there to throw a bag of ice at an athlete. It is so much more than that, we make decisions, evaluate whether a player can play or not. We are involved in the whole body-from the mental state to the physical- so much more involved than people actually give us credit for. We also have to think about the players as they get older, the athletes in their senior year, and their quality of life- how will things be in the long run for them.”
“Public awareness has grown significantly, and I am happy with what the position has developed into. I am grateful for the support of the athletic community at Elk Lake,” Jayne added.
Kimmel concluded, “As a profession we are gaining more recognition, but still need the state, federal and local governments for more support. We need to encourage parents to reach out to school administrations and their doctors to make it mandatory that all schools have an on-site athletic trainer.”