Even athletic trainers need to audible their game plans sometimes.
That has certainly been the case in 2020 as trainers had to adjust to meet the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
To deal with the coronavirus, a number of guidelines were issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards, including a stay-at-home order during the earliest stages of the virus. Since then, some of the rules have eased a bit, but protocols instituted as life tries to inch back to some semblance or normalcy has altered the roles of the trainers in dealing with their athletes.
“When we got back to being able to practice and gather, it was mainly just trying to just educate everybody about why we had to do certain things, why we had to keep everybody in smaller groups, why we had to keep everybody six feet apart, making sure everybody knew we needed to keep everything as sanitized as possible,” said Kimberly Keller, the athletic trainer at St. Charles Catholic.
One of those adjustments was the delivery of water to the players.
“As an athletic trainer for so many years, that’s part of your job,” said Hahnville trainer Sammi Taylor. “With the coronavirus happening, we could no longer supply water to the players, and they had to start bringing their own.”
Trainers also had to keep track of the players’ health background as never before.
“A bigger part on my end was making sure we were doing temperature checks and health screenings before they came into any practice,” said Keller, who has been the athletic trainer at St. Charles since 2017 after stints at Bonnabel and Miller-McCoy Academy. “It was just a big education part at the very beginning and just putting those protocols in place and making sure that everybody was trying to follow them as best as possible.
“One of the things that we’ve been looking into is that anybody, especially our athletes, that has COVID, we’ve been getting them cardiac screened as well to make sure that they don’t have any inflammation around their heart because that has been something that has been coming up that we need to look out for. If that’s something that we don’t catch, that we don’t know about it, it can be life-threatening. It can be life-altering for these kids. That’s something we’re trying to stay ahead of.”
“The first thing is we had to made sure we had the background of the kids. We had to find out the vulnerable kids who might as asthma or might have high blood pressure, these underlying conditions we always have to deal with. We made a consent form. We wanted to show the parents that, ‘hey, we care about your kids, but we want to do it in a safe way. We don’t want to push them.’ We want them to come but we wanted that authorization. The consent form made us feel better. It made the parents feel a little bit better. We went through the whole protocol of what we would be doing,” said Lutcher trainer Scott Giardina.
All the checks and balances helped Lutcher when a few early positive tests on the football team at the start of practice cancelled activities for a few days. Had those checks not been in place, the down time for the Bulldogs could have been a lot longer than just a few days, according to Giardina.
“Since we did document, we kind of did our own little contact tracing and made sure we could find out who was vulnerable or who was exposed,” said Giardina, who has been the trainer at Lutcher for 12 years. “That helped us out hugely. Otherwise, we would have had to shut everything down for two weeks.
“We had smaller groups so instead of just working a few hours a day, it went throughout the whole day, but we did have smaller groups and if something did break out, we knew, ‘hey, this kid was only around another 19 other kids.’ The same thing with the coaches. Coaches were assigned certain groups.”
Preventive measures are of critical importance, according to Destrehan trainer George McGovern.
“We just got some new electrostatic sprayers so we can spray all the touches surfaces the athletes touch before going out to practice. When they come back in, we will spray any of the equipment they use – we will spray all their helmets, we will spray the weight room every day, just to make sure that anything that is a high-contact area, we are giving as much attention as we can to it,” McGovern said.
Because football players had been stuck at home and away from normal offseason activities, a heightened sense of awareness was needed by the trainers when dealing with player conditioning, according to Taylor.
“You really had to watch each player because they had been at home for the past three months and I’m pretty sure they were inside, had the quarantine, and probably didn’t get out a lot,” said Taylor, who is in her fifth year at Hahnville and 17th as a trainer. “You had to make sure you were watching each player, making sure they are not having any heat symptoms. Making sure they are getting the proper water. Making sure they have the water and are drinking it, even if they may not be thirsty, that they still are actually putting water into their bodies to stay hydrated.’’
Although the calendar has turned to September, football players have yet put on full gear or to take on physical contact while getting acclimated to the south Louisiana summer heat.
Could all those factors lead to any particular susceptibility to injures when the season does begin in October?
“I’m not too worried about any ‘football injuries,’” said Keller. “Our kids have done really well. They have shown up for practices and conditioning. I don’t think we are missing out on a ton of stuff that way.
“They have been weight training with football and condition all summer and up until this point, so I’m not really too concerned about any ‘football injuries,’ like we will have a rash of ACLs or things like that. I’m not really concerned about that. That comes with the territory with football, anyway. That could happen whether we are in a global pandemic or not.”
“I think if they give us an adequate amount of time once to prepare with pads on, with contact, I don’t think it will be any different. It may actually be a little bit easier on the guys because it won’t be as hot being that we won’t start until October. To me, I’m preparing for your normal, everyday get back into the swing of playing week after week, your cramping issues and things like that,” said McGovern, who is in his 13th season as Destrehan trainer after having spent three years at St. Charles Catholic.
Once the season does begin, there also will be new challenges on the sidelines. One of those will be the water issue.
“The plan as of now is we are looking at possibly having each player with their own designated water bottle so there is no cross contamination, there is no sharing. We are trying to develop protocols and ways to get those filled during the game so that there are the least amount of people touching them possible,” said McGovern.
“In the past here we’ve always used cups, especially if they are on the sidelines,” Taylor said. “What will happen if we are not able to use water bottles, we do have cupholders to where the young ladies on the sports medicine team, they will come out with the cupholders and the guys will carry it that way.”
“We’re still trying to figure out the best way,” said Giardina. “We are not too sure right now. I have a feeling everybody will try their own little way and I’m always in constant contact (with other trainers). They are a lot of my best friends. It’s like, ‘this works for me (or) man, this didn’t work at all. I went through 2,000 cups.’ It will be a trial and error type thing.”
Another constant issue is the use of masks.
“The only thing that concerns me a little is them having to wear masks on the sideline if they are not actively in the game, I think that could be a little bit of a logistical adjustment just to make sure the kids have them, to make sure they are wearing theirs, that they put theirs back on and not grabbing someone else’s,” said McGovern. “We really can’t prepare for that until we experience it for the first time.
“We do a great job of wearing masks in practice and water bottles in practice but it’s different when it’s in a game setting when there are quick transitions.”
With precautions taken and anticipated, it’s time for the games to begin, said McGovern.
“Hopefully, this gets us back on the field as fast as we can because I think the kids need to play. I think from a school aspect as far as the climate in schools, it gives kids something to look forward to. They are so accustomed to it. I think the sooner we can get back on the field, everyone will be in a much better place, a much closer sense of normalcy,” McGovern said.