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Posted: Monday, November 10, 2014

Safety from the sidelines: How athletic trainers help high school athletes avoid injuries

It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon at Alcoa High School – balmy and 59 degrees with a slight breeze. It’s perfect football weather, and as you might imagine, the Alcoa Tornadoes aren’t letting the day go to waste. They’re on the field practicing for their game against Catholic High School, one that will set the table for the playoffs if the Tornadoes secure a victory.

As players practice pass routes and running plays, in the center near the 50-yard line stands Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation’s sports medicine coordinator Peggy Bratt who’s watching each one.

“A player tweaked his knee a little bit earlier today,” Bratt said. “The good thing is that I can be out here in the middle of it and watch to make sure he’s moving okay and is able to do what we need him to do so that he doesn’t hurt himself. I can make sure it doesn’t get worse and make sure it’s not something more serious than I think it is,” she said. “I like to keep an eye on things. They’re like my kids,” she added.

If her words are as true as they sound, then it’s safe to say Bratt has accumulated a rather large family. Bratt’s spent 14 seasons with the Tornadoes as the team’s athletic trainer – side-by-side with players and coaches, day in, day out, at home and away, through incredible wins and heartbreaking losses.

“It’s a neat thing,” Bratt said. “It’s fun to be out here. I’ve been blessed that, since I’ve been here, we’ve won nine state titles. The years we didn’t make it, I think I took it as hard as they did,” she said.

Bratt is one of several athletic trainers from Blount Memorial who does this each and every season. The hospital provides athletic trainers to every high school in Blount County, as well as two schools in Monroe County. All of their work – the clinic hours, the on-field hours and the rehabilitation time – is provided by the hospital as a community service, and comes at no cost to the schools or the teams. In 2013, trainers provided more than 3,500 hours of athletic training coverage free of charge.

“We put an athletic trainer in each of the schools,” Bratt said. “They’re there most days. If there’s football going on, there’s an athletic trainer on site every day. During other sports’ seasons, we’re there as necessary and we’re at games. Each athletic trainer is a part of the team at his or her school,” she said. “If athletes get hurt here at practice, I’m here. I see them at the time of the injury, I can evaluate them and I either get them to the emergency room or in to see an orthopedic doctor the next day. If they have to have some kind of surgery, then I see them in the clinic for rehabilitation. We literally see them from start to finish, so it’s a great situation for the kids. They get great, top-notch care,” she added.

Bratt also has final say as to when an athlete can return to play following an injury. “That’s huge,” she said. “That takes that decision off the coach. I just go to him and say ‘So-and-so is out’ or ‘He can go back and play’ and that’s it. There are no arguments. If we say a player is done, that player is done until a doctor clears him or we say he can go back,” she said.

Alcoa head football coach Gary Rankin agrees. “It’s comforting to know that we have somebody who can take care of our kids,” Rankin said. “I don’t have to have a hand in it at all. Anything that comes up along the line of injures, she takes care of it. I listen to what she says, and I go by what she says. It’s a comfort to me, it’s a comfort to our other coaches, and I’m sure it’s a huge comfort to the parents to know that we’ve got trainers at every practice, every scrimmage. Anything we do that has to do with football on this field, we always have a trainer here,” he explained. “It’s a huge, huge service to these schools,” he added.

Despite the hard work and long hours, on an afternoon like this, Bratt says it’s hard not to feel fortunate. “I’m blessed to be able to work with a great program and a great coaching staff. Just being involved in athletics in this manner is just a lot of fun,” she said.

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