By Chelsea Groomer | SPECIAL to KBEC Sports
You see them on the sidelines giving aid to players. You catch a glimpse of them buzzing around teams with water bottles in hand — constantly ready, these unsung heroes of the field are just as crucial to athletics as the sport itself. But who are they?
They are none other than the athletic training student aides.
“We are healthcare providers,” stated Thomas Rhodes, Life High School Waxahachie head athletic trainer. “We’re here to take care of your children, these athletes, that’s our ultimate goal. We want to see kids be successful and win games, but we also want to see them come home at the end of the day without being injured or going to the hospital.”
“What they do day-in and day-out to help keep our athletes safe and healthy is critical to our success,” confirmed Scott Thrush, Life Schools’ athletic director. “I could not be more proud of our trainers and sports medicine teams.”
Athletic trainers are the backbone of sports healthcare, encompassing prevention, examination, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. With this, LHSW and Life High School Oak Cliff are proud to incorporate a competitive academic edge through their Health Science program.
“Sports Medicine provides students with opportunities to see medicine in action and constantly practice life-saving skills, so that no matter what career path they choose, they are able to quickly disseminate information, collaborate with others, think critically about how a situation may arise, and plan before it becomes a crisis,” explained Amanda Andrews, LHSOC head athletic trainer and CTE Health Science Sports Medicine instructor.
According to a recent study from the Journal of Athletic Training, 34 percent of secondary schools have no access to an Athletic Trainer. Rhodes points to the quality of Life School’s CTE Programs, by saying both LHSW and LHSOC are provided with full-time athletic trainers.
“The opportunities presented are unlike any other program in the medical field,” Andrews agreed on the importance of the ATSA pathway. “To be in sports medicine requires advanced degrees, so learning the time, talent, and commitment to the understanding needed for a future career in healthcare is invaluable.”
“Other programs or internships are ‘observation’ driven, whereas, the athletic training student aides are able to learn, practice, and develop many basic skills of all the healthcare professions day in and day out […] I often tell students to not be scared away from the hard stuff, just to jump in because I will not let you fail if you are committed,” she encouraged.
“Student-athletes going through Life Schools athletic programs are going to be better people on the other side of it. We challenge our coaches to use their sport as a tool for preparing these young men and women for life after LIFE,” Thrush acknowledged.
A DAY IN A LIFE
With trust, hard work, and dedication holding these medical teams together, Rhodes explains the behind-the-scenes work is nothing less than meticulous. Attending early morning practices, ATSAs prepare the sidelines with medical equipment, hydration stations, and organize for the emergency action plan during on-call cases.
Then, as the school day begins, ATSAs attend regular classes in addition to the sports medicine courses, gaining experience both on the field and in the classroom. Being trained in everything from splinting and taping techniques to CPR, First Aid, and more – ATSAs are well-versed in a variety of emergency procedures. So much so, that they are placed on a scheduled rotation to work evening games alongside the athletic trainers.
“These students are dedicated,” Rhodes complimented.
Recalling a critical situation during a morning football practice, Alexis Lopez, LHSW assistant athletic trainer and Sports Medicine instructor, explained how one of her ATSAs took what she learned and arose to the occasion.
“I had my first fracture last year and it was one of my first times being at morning practice by myself,” Lopez described. “I had a kid that fractured something and I gave a signal to one of my Student Trainers. She was able to receive the signal and retrieve the emergency equipment I needed. That was a proud moment for me because she acted calm and she was able to handle it.”
For students interested in joining the program, Rhodes and Andrews are open to all applicants; however, a mandatory prerequisite is to pass the Biology STAAR test and not have disciplinary issues. From there, potential ATSAs are placed on a trail-run.
“We see if they have good time-management and understand the workload that’s involved. Once they get involved and realize how much work it is, then they start weeding themselves out. If they’re interested, they’ll stick with us,” Rhodes nodded.
“I look to recruit those students that are adaptable, resilient, compassionate, and team players,” Andrews said, also noting to incoming freshmen to join the Health Science Club and gain a perspective of what to expect.
BEYOND HIGH SCHOOL
Slowly growing in popularity, Lopez tells of first hearing about the athletic training career during her Sophomore year in college.
“For me, I didn’t know anything about athletic training,” Lopez remembered the time she tore her ACL. “I went to a physical therapist and I was talking to him about what I was going to do after college. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a nurse or an x-ray technician, and then he said, ‘Why don’t you look into athletic training?’ You would think it’s common, but it’s barely happening now.”
The National Athletic Trainers Association confirms this notion in a recent study that stated there are more than 58,000 certified athletic trainers around the world. Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment rate to grow 16-percent from 2019 to 2029, the demand for athletic trainers is expected to increase as people become more aware of the effects of sports-related injuries.
Though sports is a common assumption to find athletic trainers, these healthcare professionals can also serve in similar capacities as nurses, physician assistants, and other clinical personnel in urban hospitals, occupational health, public safety, military branches, and performing arts.
Lopez emphasizes the open window Life School students are provided to gain an upper-hand through the CTE Sports Medicine pathway during their college years.
“They come out knowing how to critically think and make decisions on the spot because a lot of our kids are put in positions where they have to be quick on their feet. When they graduate they will have a lot of professional experience and can say, ‘I was able to learn this and now apply it to whatever else is next,’” Lopez stated.
“I currently know of seven recent grads pursuing a degree in athletic training or starting a bachelor’s in kinesiology, looking to pursue masters in Athletic Training,” Andrews concurred. “At least three have graduated and are entering PT school or PA school.”
“I would put our student athletic training program as well as our three trainers up against any program in the State,” Thrush stated. “They put the safety of our student-athletes above all else and I have the ultimate respect for each and every one of these front line workers.”
Whether ATSAs choose a career in the medical field as a physician, surgeon, physical therapist, nurse, or certified athletic trainer, Life School is consistent in its mission in preparing students to be ready to learn and lead for life outside of high school.
“At the end of the day, I want students to love learning and seek out opportunities to do so,” Andrews articulated. “I want them to know that I love them and hope that they can demonstrate compassionate care to their own patients or athletes one day in the future.”
Learn more about Life School’s CTE programs, visit https://www.lifeschool.net/academics.