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Athletic trainers are crucial to prep sports

On any given day of a school sporting event in Henderson County, some of the most invested people in the game are watching from the sidelines and ready to jump into action.

On Friday, “Athletic Trainer’s Day,” Henderson County Public Schools recognized these dedicated athletic trainers who provide sports medicine care to student-athletes and peace of mind to families and school administrators.

Since 2015, athletic trainers from Pardee UNC Health Care — the official provider of athletic training and sports medicine services for Henderson County Public Schools — have worked closely with thousands of middle and high school student-athletes in Western North Carolina.

During a ceremony at the Historic Courthouse, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners designated March 11 as "Athletic Trainer’s Day" in Henderson County, recognizing the important relationship between certified athletic trainers and partner school districts like HCPS to ensure student-athletes receive top-quality sports medicine care.

“These athletic trainers play a big role in bringing a sense of calm and reassurance to a parent when a student-athlete does become injured,” said Laura Bruegger, assistant principal and athletic director at Hendersonville High School.

In schools, an athletic trainer’s services include primary care, injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergent care, examination, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.

“From middle school through all of their high school sports endeavors, our athletic trainers are with these kids every day,” said Dwayne Durham, director of Sports Medicine at Pardee UNC Health. “We’re there for pre-practice treatments, practice, and after practice. We’re the first ones on the scene when there’s an injury, and we’re with the athletes all the way through their winning games.”

Athletic trainers identify, manage, and educate student-athletes, parents, and staff about any injury that may occur. This includes evaluating for potential injuries/illnesses or risk factors that would increase their risks. They also design and implement appropriate treatment programs surrounding flexibility, strength, cardiovascular fitness, and nutrition to further reduce the risk of injury and illness.

An athletic trainer also works with physicians to provide a range of healthcare services to student-athletes and collaborate with school nurses to look after the entire student body.

“If there are any injuries throughout the day when we may not be there, the school nurse will help triage the student-athlete and then send them to the athletic trainer after school,” said Becky Dotson, athletic trainer at Hendersonville High. “There is open communication between the school nurses and our athletic trainers, which makes for great patient-centered care for our student-athletes.”

Athletic trainers are formally educated, licensed, and certified to provide comprehensive patient care in five domains of clinical practice: prevention; clinical evaluation and diagnosis; immediate and emergency care; treatment and rehabilitation; and organization and professional health and well-being. They prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal injuries from sports, physical and occupational activity, and provide immediate care for acute injuries.

“It’s always our goal to have all student-athletes back in action as soon as it is safely possible,” Durham said. “We can never guarantee that a student-athlete won’t get hurt out there, but we remain steadfastly focused on prevention at every turn.”

An added benefit of having a strong athletic training program in the school system is that much of the rehabilitation a student may need can be done at the school level, ultimately saving money and time for families, said Bruegger.

“Money becomes much less of a barrier to their children being able to continue on in the sports activities that they love,” she said. “Having care available at school is helpful to parents, as it saves them time from taking off work, traveling to and from appointments, but it also provides a peace of mind knowing their child is in good hands,” she said.

Athletic trainers are not coaches and they’re not teachers, but they have a distinctive opportunity to connect and grow with students in powerful ways.

“We spend so many hours with these teams and with the students, that it’s hard not to be invested in their successes and struggle with their losses,” said Dotson. “We see firsthand the time and commitment that these kids put into it day in and day out.”