"In any athletic event there's always a chance of injury -- and it's more likely in contact sports like football," said Sikeston Bulldogs football coach Charlie Vickery. "The most important thing is the athlete's physical well being and providing medical assistance they need when the time comes." Certified athletic trainers are trained in the evaluation and assessment of athletic and orthopedic-related injuries, explained Mike Greene, a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist for New Madrid County Central High School.
"Coaches have always been fortunate of having a doctor on the sidelines at home games, but over the past few years, athletic trainers have become essential," Vickery said, adding that the trainers provide services for other school sports, too.
Typically, the trainers will go out to a school once a week during a practice and check to see if any of the players have any injuries and determine if the injury needs to be seen by a physician or if it can be taped, iced or rehabilitated, Green explained. Trainers are also on the sidelines at Friday night football games to assist with any injuries that may arise.
And when the trainers speak, the coaches listen.
"We go by his judgment," said Steve Rogers, New Madrid County Central football coach. "If he says a player needs to sit out a week, then that's what we do."
Injuries during a football game can range anywhere from sprained ankles and sore shoulders to the serious like head and spinal cord injuries, Greene said.
When someone is hurt or needs medical attention, Greene said he works with the ambulance crews as a triage to get the athletes where they need to go.
"You used to only see certified athletic trainers in the larger communities like St. Louis and Kansas City, but now we're starting to see more and more of them in the rural communities like Sikeston," Greene said.
The trend across the United States of utilizing certified athletic trainers is starting to trickle down from the larger schools into the smaller schools, noted Dr. Amanda Sinclair, clinical coordinator of the athletic training education program and assistant professor of athletic training at Southeast Missouri State University.
"A lot of the smaller schools can't afford to hire an athletic trainer so they may hire a teacher who works as athletic trainer after school just like they hire a teacher who works as a coach," Sinclair explained.
Or schools utilize an athletic trainer through an outreach rehabilitative service where a school contracts a local physical therapy unit.
Relationships between the teams and the trainers has been great, both parties noted.
"They've done a great job with us, and we feel like they are really a part of the team. With the trainers, our players can get back in the lineup even quicker," Rogers commented.
Apparently, the feeling is mutual.
"Kent (Schott, certified athletic trainer for Sikeston High) and I have both talked about how one of our favorite times of our work week is getting out and being with the kids," Greene said. "We've become friends with the kids and feel like part of coaching staff. When we travel with the teams, they take care of us."
Parents are also pleased there's an extra qualified person available should their child become injured during a game. It puts their minds at ease, Greene said.
"They're really supportive of us," Greene said about parents. "I've had a kid who hurt his knee at practice so I went with him to the emergency room. When the mom got there, she was very appreciative that someone was there to take her son to the emergency room and be there with him."
As the high school football season winds down, Rogers noted the trainers help to alleviate some of the coaches' pressure.
"It's nice when you have someone qualified who can take over and diagnose injuries, and you can do your job," Rogers noted.
Being on the sidelines and assisting in medical emergencies takes one more task off the of the coaches, Greene agreed.
"The coaches are there to coach," Greene said, "and we're there to make sure the kids are healthy and make sure they're safe to play."