Keeping Them on the Field: The Sports Med Athletic Training Outreach Program

Football playerVerona, Wis. - At 3:10pm on a Wednesday, Verona Area High School was relatively tranquil. Sneakers squeaked in the gymnasium, where a final-period class played a combination of ping-pong and badminton. A few teenagers strolled the main hall near the performance center, waiting for the final bell to signal their freedom. Two students lingered by the school's eastern doors and appeared to be considering making an early break for the parking lot.


And all was quiet in the athletic training room, where Stephanie Hayes spends most of her afternoons during Verona's fall sports season. Her day was about to get busier.


Hayes is a physician extender athletic trainer for UW Health Sports Medicine, and a significant part of her job involves taking care of Verona Area High School athletes.


"I do everything from injury prevention, like taping and monitoring practice, all the way to the initial evaluation of injuries on the field," says Hayes, who earned board certification in athletic training after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. "I do rehabilitation of injuries and determine when the kids can return to play. I'm the main coverage for many of their sporting events."


Basically, she keeps the athletes on the field, or in the case of injured athletes, prepares them to return to competition. Hayes does so as one of several trainers involved in UW Health Sports Medicine's athletic training outreach program.


Started in 1982, the program provides comprehensive sports medicine care directly to athletes at high schools and small colleges in Dane County. Verona is one of more than 25 high schools participating in the program, which also includes Madison's minor-league baseball team, the Mallards, as well as sports teams from the University of Wisconsin, Madison College and Edgewood College.


"Steph is here every day after school," says Verona athletic director Mark Kryka. "The kids see her to get taped and to get injuries taken care of. She's there to prevent somebody from not taking care of an injury correctly and causing more damage, and making sure kids are keeping up with their rehab."


It's a necessary service, given the rate at which high school athletes are injured. According to the Centers for Disease Control, high school athletes account for two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations annually. Football players get hurt the most, with 4.36 injuries per 1,000 exposures, followed by wrestling (2.5), boys' (2.43) and girls' (2.36) soccer, and girls' basketball (2.01).


UW Health, in fact, recently held a seminar at its Research Park Clinic during which sports medicine physicians and athletic trainers taught female athletes, parents and coaches ways to decrease knee injuries to female athletes between the ages of 12 and 18.


"We have so many more athletes than we had 15 years ago," Kryka says. "You're going to have more injuries."


Kids are playing sports at greater rates - 7.2 million high school students participated in school-sponsored sports in 2006, compared to four million in 1972 - which means more strains, sprains, contusions and concussions. And judging by how quickly activity in the training room ramped up, those numbers are no exaggeration.


The echo from the final school bell could still be heard when the Verona athletes started arriving in the training room. A wrestler had hurt his neck. A member of the girls' basketball team needed a sprained ankle taped. A football player had an ankle problem, too. Another member of the wrestling team knocked on Hayes' door, complaining of knee pain.


"Point to where it hurts," Hayes said as she told the young man to have a seat on one of three training tables. He indicated the inner part of the knee, and Hayes carefully bent and twisted his leg while monitoring his knee and asking if the movements caused any pain. "Did you land on it or twist it?"


"I twisted it," he said, and after a deep squat revealed no further discomfort, Hayes instructed him to warm up for 10 minutes on a stationary bike and report back to her. If the knee continued to bother him, she said, she might hold him out of the contact portions of practice that evening.


Some diagnoses are more involved. Two years ago a Verona athlete who participates in football, basketball and track took a tough hit during a Friday night football game. He was shaken up but didn't tell his coaches and stayed in the game. The following week in practice he was involved in another collision, after which he says, "I don't remember much for the rest of the practice."


He sought out Hayes, who immediately knew he had suffered a head injury.


"He didn't realize he had a concussion and kept playing even though he had symptoms," Hayes says. "He was complaining of headaches and dizziness and nausea. He had post-concussion syndrome."


"I was really slow," the athlete says. "I couldn't really comprehend much, didn't really know what was going on."


His symptoms kept him out of school for two weeks, and when he returned to the football team, Hayes put him through a progressive series of tests to determine if he was ready to play. In addition to an ImPACT evaluation of his neurological performance, Hayes had the athlete ride an exercise bike for 10 minutes. When he reported headaches and fatigue, Hayes knew it was too early to return to the gridiron.


"You have to educate them and make sure they understand it's not a good idea to return too soon," Hayes says.


To do so, Hayes had to earn the athletes' trust, which she's done with a combination of familiarity and forthrightness.


"During football season, she's with the kids as much as I am," says Verona football coach Dave Richardson. "She does such a nice job and has a great rapport with the kids. She knows when to get tough with them and when to back off. She walks that fine line as well as anybody and I'm appreciative of that, because then the kids will be honest with us."


"The nice thing is the kids see me as somebody they can tell things to," Hayes says. "I'm there every day and they see me as someone they can talk to about injuries and not being able to play."


Still, Richardson wouldn't mind seeing a little less of Hayes.


"Unfortunately, she's well-liked, which means a lot of kids are in that room," he jokes. "Honestly, I'd prefer that person be bored to death."

Date Published: 11/22/2010

News tag(s):  sports

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