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The Anatomy of Sports Medicine

The Expectations of the Athletic Trainers
Alyssa Fox
Handing a towel to a coach, freshman Norah Goett fulfills her duties as an athletic trainer at the JV game against Vandegrift on August 31. As a part of being a student trainer, Goett is required to go to every football practice and game. “I enjoy the fun of helping people,” Goett said. “Being able to go to the games and be on the field and have that experience is really cool.” Photo by Alyssa Fox

In the gleam of the Friday night lights, by the football field of players and on the sidelines of the chaos stand the people who keep the whole operation running. From taping sore body parts to providing a quick fix for a bloody nose, the sports medicine program keeps the game running. No matter the situation, these student trainers are poised and ready to spring into action.

The sports medicine program is meant for keeping student athletes safe and healthy. The students in this program are taught a variety of skills from using gauze, taping, rehabilitation and more meant for helping those on the field, court or anywhere they are needed. The program is led by David Bowman, who has been lead trainer since the school opened, and Stefany Austin, who has been a part of the Timberwolf athletic department for nine years. Contrary to popular belief, there is far more that is expected of the Sports Med student jobs than just giving water to the football players on the sidelines.

“Sports medicine in general is about helping the athletes, that’s the broadest term,” Austin said. “We are mainly about the medical side, but I personally like to try and reach [students] on a personal level. That’s why I wanted to work with high school athletes to begin with, because high school kids to me are fun to work with. Nobody wants to be in [the Sports Med room], that means that they’re hurt and that’s not some way that they want to be, so I try to make it a little enjoyable to be in here and around me.”

Unlike other teams or extracurriculars, there are no leadership positions or titles in Sports Med. Instead, as a student gains more years of experience, they are given more responsibilities. Freshman trainer Norah Goett is assigned with staying in the locker room during games and setting up the water table for the players. Eventually, she’ll get to be on the sidelines helping with taping the players, providing water and stopping any kinds of bleeding.

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“I want to be either an athletic trainer for a professional team or a physical therapist,” Goett said. “This is the closest thing I can do to those professions in high school. I enjoy the fun of helping people, being able to go to the games, be on the field and have the on-field experience. I like watching them play.”

Along with being at all of the games, they also have to be at the morning practices. Some of the students are up at 4 a.m. and at school at 5 a.m. to set up for practice with morning practices running until 7:30. The day doesn’t end there, as they also have to attend the afternoon practices, which usually end around 5:30 p.m.  

“A lot of [kids] don’t know necessarily what they’re getting into at first,” Austin said. “They think it’s just coming in and handing out water at practice and then they actually get into it and it’s a lot more hands-on, a lot more work than they thought it was going to be. I like to make it a lot of fun for them because we do realize it’s a lot of work. Our booster clubs and all the sports do a good job of recognizing the work that they do and they try to recognize the kids for that. Nobody realizes how much work it actually is; you are putting in the same hours that the athletes are putting in.”

The team graduated three students in 2023. Additionally, this year they have no juniors, so next year they will be without a senior to guide the underclassmen trainers. Sophomore trainer Lucy Zittrer had a sister who graduated, so she experienced the shift from an older Sports Med program to a younger one first-hand.

“It’s definitely a different vibe in the training room because there are a lot more younger, newer people to the program,” Zittrer said. “I have to step up my responsibility levels and take more control because there’s a lot less upperclassmen to fill that position. I’m having to teach the younger students how to do that later.”

Currently, the team is made up entirely of girls and they are a close-knit group. Goett said that the sophomore girls are usually closer with the freshmen, as they understand their position. It is a learning environment, with help from everyone on the team.

“I would say that the dynamic is very much that we’re all close,” Goett said. “We get along pretty well. There’s no arguing or anything, we’re not getting mad at each other. I will say game days are a little more stressful, so you will see people’s more stressed sides come out. They might chirp or yell at you a little bit, but it’s nothing personal. We’ve been told ‘don’t take it personal’ on game days because that’s never the person’s true self, that’s just them because they’re under pressure and stressed.”

The trainers aren’t just working on game days, they’re helping out every day, at each of the football team’s practices. On top of this, they also work with both boy and girl soccer teams. This means they are always on the go, setting up for practice, learning different skills or helping a player with something. Being on the sports medicine team is a big commitment, without much room for absences. Unlike the football teams, the student trainers don’t get as much recognition for what they do because everything is behind the scenes.

“It’s a good and bad thing,” Austin said. “What we tell our kids is, if we do our job right, no one knows who we are. No one knows who we are unless someone gets injured, because all of our job is behind the scenes. It’s good if no one knows who we are and it’s like I tell [it] in our parent meetings, if you’ve never had to talk to me, it’s a great thing. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who I am. That means your kid has never been hurt.”

Although sports medicine is time-consuming and full of hard work, Austin said that the friendships on the team are life-long, having past graduates continue to be close to this day. The team is all contributing to the same goal of helping the athletes stay safe and healthy.

“I thought sports medicine sounded really fun and like something that I would be interested in in the future,” Goett said. “I joined and I found out that it is, and it’s something that I’m really enjoying. I think it’s a combination of everything. The teamwork, how it can be helpful for a profession in the future and watching the games is really fun, being there and [getting] on-field experience. I’m enjoying the teamwork and the fun of helping people.”

This story was originally published on Wolfpack on September 19, 2023.