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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    It’s National Athletic Trainers Month (and we’ve got the best)

    It is National Athletic Trainers Month, an occasion for all of us to appreciate and understand the roles of highly qualified health care professionals in our schools.

    And now we must pause and reiterate: highly qualified health care professionals.

    “There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff we’re doing,” Stonington trainer Katie Cooper said. “It's not just showing up to a game and waiting for an injury to happen.”

    Indeed not. Cooper joins a modest band of full-time trainers in the region, whose overall excellence is raising awareness to the importance (and scope) of the job. So sure, there's a functional definition — to specialize in preventing athletic injuries, recognizing and diagnosing injuries and illnesses and treating and rehabilitating active patients from their injuries.

    Except that there’s everything else, too, for Cooper, Ashley James (East Lyme), Michelle LaForte (Waterford), Bethany Grady (Fitch) and K.J. Donovan (NFA). They are often the first to arrive and the last to leave on game night, effortlessly morphing from ankle taper to therapist.

    “Katie Cooper,” Stonington athletic director Bryan Morrone said, “is as much a Bear as anyone at our school.”

    Romano called Grady’s “dedication and commitment to the health and well-being of our student-athletes” as “second to none.”

    All of which allows the trainers to open the curtain on their jobs and concerns. There are many. A sampling:

    James, who began at Ledyard before the full-time gig at East Lyme: “I try to teach these kids to play their own game. Like go to your own practice, work on your own game, practice your own skill. There's so much competition with and on social media. Johnny did this and he posted it on social media, so now I need to do that in practice and post that, too.

    “They're looking at what other schools are doing and what other teams are doing instead of focusing on the basics. Get really strong at the stuff you're good at and then the fancy stuff will come. But there’s so much competition with each other. In their mental state, they need to show off. It becomes less about the sport.”

    Grady: “For me, the challenge is being a smaller female. That's probably the one that actually irritates me the most. People look at me and think just because I'm a female on the sidelines of a football game or looking up at basketball players, I must not know what I’m talking about. Or even just the fact that I'm ‘just’ a high school athletic trainer. I don't want to be a professional athletic trainer. I love what I do in this setting. I love the kids that I see in this setting and that doesn't make me any less worthy.”

    Cooper: “One of the big things people don't understand about our jobs and exactly what we do is the scope of medicine. To be an athletic trainer now requires a Master's degree. It’s so much more extensive than it used to be.

    “We have a lot of athletes in all the different sports. Trying to manage all of those injuries is a lot, but is something like rehab within our scope of medicine? Absolutely. And I don't think we're always utilized in that aspect. I’m interested in how I can strengthen you? How do I make you more mobile? How do I get you back faster? How do I improve this recovery process?”

    Identifying and diagnosing an injury, while vital, also comes with the potential other shoe dropping like a bowling ball off a coffee table. As in: Sometimes, trainers must tell eager athletes it’s not safe for them to return to the game, even when they want to. And then come the parents.

    “I think my biggest thing is looking for that support from the parents,” James said, “versus the control aspect of it. It doesn't streamline the process.”

    Grady: “Parents need to understand that they’re not playing the sport. Their kids are.”

    And their kids are in a very safe place within the ECC. There is nothing more sacrosanct than the concepts of health and well-being. More schools in the league (and state) ought to consider full-time athletic trainers. This is their month and their stories to tell. We’re blessed with good people around here.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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