Trainers are an important part of a program

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, September 12, 2013

Niles trainer Bob Taylor works on Miranda Baker’s should before volleyball practice Thursday. (Leader photo/SCOTT NOVAK)

Niles trainer Bob Taylor works on Miranda Baker’s should before volleyball practice Thursday. (Leader photo/SCOTT NOVAK)

Before he became the head athletic trainer at Niles High School 15 years ago, Bob Taylor seriously impacted a young athlete’s life.

Training to become an athletic trainer, Taylor had an internship at East Kentwood High School and was working at a high school hockey game.

“A kid got checked into the boards,” said Taylor. “The kid skated off the ice and said that his neck just felt stiff. There didn’t appear to be any neurological problems. But I had a gut feeling that he might want to get checked out further. I was told the next day that the kid had to have surgery because he had two broken vertebraes in his neck. If he wouldn’t have been checked out that fracture could have displaced and severed his spinal cord. His dad thanked me for what I did.”

Taylor was there for an injured Niles athlete three weeks ago at a freshman football game.

“We were at Vicksburg and one of our kids suffered a neck injury,” Taylor said. “There wasn’t an ambulance and I had to stabilize him for 35 minutes on the ground. An ambulance came from Kalamazoo and the kid was released from the hospital after a CT-scan and MRI was done.”

These are just a few examples of the importance of high school athletic trainers. Daily, these trainers are working behind the scenes helping athletic recover from minor and major injuries.

“I had 3,800 hours of hands-on training,” Taylor said. “There’s not much free-time. I’ve worked 65 to 70 hours a week the last month or so.”

Taylor is a Lakeland HealthCare athletic trainer, who’s an employee of the Lakeland HealthCare hospital system. Those systems are based in St. Joseph, Niles and Watervliet. Taylor is a part-time trainer who works at the Niles YMCA Lakeland Rehabilitation Clinic in the morning and then teaches sports medicine at Lake Michigan College in the afternoon. There are full-time Lakeland HealthCare athletic trainers at St. Joseph High School, Lakeshore High School, Bridgman High School and Lake Michigan Catholic High School.

“I work at Niles High School under the HealthCare contract,” Taylor said. “The other trainers are full-time because they work 40 hours a weeks at the physical therapy clinic. I go to practices and sporting events everyday after school and look at the injuries that take place in all the sports. The other trainers are at the school two times a week and cover a high school football game.”

Through the years, Taylor has seen many changes when it comes to dealing with high school injuries and keeping kids healthy.

“There’s a lot more medicine advances,” Taylor said. “When a kid in the past suffered a torn ACL they would be in a leg cast up to their hip for up to eight weeks. Now, a kid has surgery for a torn ACL and is back on the field in six months.

“You see trends when it comes to injuries and you try to figure out why an injury is happening. Maybe the fields are too hard and need to be watered more. Maybe a kid is wearing the wrong shoes. Sports equipment might be affecting injuries. Kids now wear smaller shoulder pads. They want more speed and movement and take the chance that they might get hurt.

“We also try to prevent heat-related issues. Everyday before practice we take the heat index temperature. That determines how they practice and what they wear for practices. Our football team just wore shorts (on Sept. 9). We keep the players hydrated. We have portable hydration units and water fountains. When I played football coaches didn’t believe in water.”

Currently, concussions are the big health issue nationwide for athletes at all levels.

“There’s a lot more awareness of the problem,” Taylor said. “Back in the day, a kid would be back playing in 20 minutes after his head calmed down. When you suffer a concussion now you can’t come back that quick. For four years we’ve had a standard protocol system and impact concussion testing. After an athlete returns to a normal baseline level, they have to do some exercise tests for five days. Those tests increase an athlete’s blood pressure and we can see what a kid can do. We compare reaction times and when everything is OK an athlete can return to their sport.”

The goal is the same for all of the high school athletic trainers.

“We want all the kids to play,” Taylor said. “But, we also want them to be healthy and have a normal life after high school.”