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HPER's athletic trainers: For 25 years, helping area high school students go the distance

During the last 25 years, high school athletes near Indiana University's Bloomington campus have pushed themselves, experienced thrilling victories, brutal losses, and learned lessons that might last a lifetime. Behind the scenes -- and in the thick of the sporting events -- athletic trainers from IU have worked year in and year out to help the athletes' bodies keep up.

Athletic Trainer

Photo by Stan Gerbig

Jordan Frank, a licensed athletic trainer and graduate student at IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, assists a football player during practice at Edgewood High School.

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"You have to look at the athletes as people, not injuries," said Jordan Frank, a licensed athletic trainer from IU's graduate program in athletic training, watching the Edgewood High School football team practice. "If we put an athlete back in with an ankle injury, will he need surgery 30 years from now? Sports are temporary."

Frank is in his first year of the athletic training graduate program, which is in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation's Department of Kinesiology. With him at that particular practice was Megan Dean, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training from the School of HPER.

In her junior year, she already has hands on experience helping IU athletes who play soccer, football and who row. Her rotations as part of her degree included experience at a Bloomington medical group and a volunteer medical program, and a surprising stint with some college cheerleaders, an activity she described as "brutal" because of the concussions and other injuries cheerleaders experience.

When she graduates, however, she wants to continue working with high school athletes.

"They're not getting scholarships," she said. "They're competing for the love of the sport."

Graduate students, licensed athletic trainers -- same difference

John Schrader, coordinator of the athletic training programs at the School of HPER and associate chair of the Department of Kinesiology, said his students began supporting sports teams at Bloomington North and South high schools around 25 years ago. With the subsequent addition of teams at Edgewood High School and Owen Valley High School, his graduate students, all nationally certified and state licensed athletic trainers, have helped all or some of these schools each year, on hand at practices and home games, assisting with volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, baseball, or whatever the school's contract with the athletic training program required.

This year, for example, all four high schools have contracts for one graduate student each. Schrader said the contracts vary according to what the schools need -- some need help for specific sports or particularly heavy seasons, where the students supplement services provided by the high school's staff or athletic trainers from area medical providers, such as IU Health Bloomington.

Schrader describes it as a win-win-win situation -- his students receive invaluable experience, the revenue from the contracts helps support the athletic training graduate students' education, and the schools receive assistance and expertise that they might not have been able to afford. Recent surveys, said Schrader, found that as little as 40 percent of high schools nationwide had access to licensed athletic trainers during sporting events. At the same time, fewer coaches have formal preparation in physiology, motor skill development, injury recognition or even first aid. Students in IU's graduate program, said Schrader, are required to have taken and passed the national Board of Certification exam. This board also provides scores to individual states that are used to confer the state licensure, as well.

Athletic Trainer

Megan Dean is pursuing a Bachelor of Science, majoring in athletic training in IU's School of HPER.

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"Our program has had a long history of positive relationships with the school corporations," Schrader said. "It ultimately benefits the parents because it assures there's someone in place who is appropriately trained to care for their child and to take a very different approach than a coach might."

Undergraduate athletic training majors, like Dean, assist in the schools, too, as part of their mandatory rotations.

More than taping ankles and getting water

Frank received his undergraduate degree in athletic training from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, a program that he described as very competitive. While there, he played Division II football, yet even as a consumer of athletic training services, he still underestimated the amount of work and academic rigor involved.

"Going into it, I thought it was about taping ankles and getting water," he said.

His sophomore year, committed to the field, he was totally overwhelmed. Athletic trainers are considered first responders, so when an injury occurs at practice or during a game, they're the first ones on the scene assessing and managing the emergency. With the heightened awareness concerning concussions, this role has received more attention.

At the first sign of trouble, first responders such as Frank look for obvious concussion symptoms, such as dizziness, nausea or headaches. But before the seasons even begin, athletic trainers often are involved with baseline testing, using computer-based questions that probe athletes' cognitive functioning to provide comparison data to gauge later whether a concussion might have occurred.

"Give a lot of credit to the (athletic) trainers because they work with the kids on a day-to-day basis, so they know," Dr. J.D. Headdy, the Edgewood team physician, said in a Bloomington Herald-Times article about managing concussions in high school sports. "After they have done their thing, I jump in and kind of repeat everything -- ask the kid what day it is, what year it is, who he plays for . . . If there's an alteration of consciousness, or if the symptoms don't clear up quickly, he is done for the night."

Schrader said athletic trainers such as Frank then work closely with the athletes, parents and their physicians when concussions and other injuries occur to determine when they can return to play. Athletic trainers typically arrive at least an hour before games or practices and leave an hour afterward so that they can conduct any necessary pre-practice treatments, help with warm-ups, treat any injuries as they occur, follow and assess new injuries for the day and then thoroughly clean up afterward. They use tape, as would be expected, but they also use ice, heat packs, ultra-sound and other therapies. While concussions, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and twisted ankles are obvious concerns, athletic trainers have to keep an eye out for invisible threats, too, such as influenza or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

"Football players are susceptible to MRSA, especially when they play on a lot of artificial turf," Frank said. "So we encourage the athletes to shower and wash their hands, and we make sure the equipment is clean."

The care that athletic trainers take isn't lost on coaches like Edgewood Head Football Coach Jerry Bland, who told the Herald-Times, "I've had the luxury of really good people on my sidelines. It's the kind of thing that helps you sleep better at night."

A 'recession proof' career

Frank could have found a job as an athletic trainer after receiving his bachelor's degree but he decided to pursue a master's degree to advance and hone his skills to help him stand out once he enters the job market.

Athletic trainers work in high school and college sports but they also work in the military and in other fields, such as corporate settings. One of Schrader's former students joined the circus in Las Vegas -- working as an athletic trainer for Cirque du Soleil. The graduate program includes 13 master's degree students and two doctoral students. Four of the students are under contract with the high schools, seven provide additional coverage for intercollegiate athletics and two work with performing arts on campus -- ballet dancers in the Jacobs School of Music and contemporary dancers in the School of HPER.

In April, The New York Times cited athletic training as one of the 'Top 10' projected careers for where jobs will grow through 2018. With the escalating costs of health care, athletic trainers are becoming an integral part of the industry.

"Their specialized health care expertise is now being utilized by the military, F.B.I., Department of Homeland Security, and automotive plants, in addition to the more traditional entertainment industries of motor sports, rodeo, X-games, Las Vegas performers, and Broadway performers," Schrader said. "And of course, there are the more traditional positions in high schools, colleges and professional athletics."

To read more articles from the Department of Kinesiology in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, visit