Five years ago, high schools in La Plata County - with the exception of Durango, which contracted for certified athletic trainers - weren't assured of having anyone with sports-medicine training or a physician present at their games.
It was dicey for a player who went down. A coach, a referee or a parent decided if the athlete stayed in the game or sat it out.
Now, the safety net for Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio high school athletes who are injured in practice or competition has been strengthened by the presence of certified athletic trainers. The trainers, who come to practice and varsity home games, are qualified to assess injuries, treat them or refer the athlete to a physician if necessary.
Jeff Stotts, Portia Kamps and Kolin Tomlinson are certified athletic trainers, employees of Mercy Regional Medical Center, whose workday begins in the early afternoon at Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio high schools, respectively. They prepare athletes for practice or competition, taping ankles, treating sprains or working with athletes in rehabilitation.
"The old mentality of athletic trainers as glorified water boys is gone," Stotts said in an interview. "We have the expertise to evaluate, treat and rehabilitate athletes."
Stotts estimated that in the 2007-08 school year, he worked with 3,000 varsity and junior varsity athletes in either practice or games. He has seen about 2,000 athletes so far this school year.
Kamps, who is in her second year at Bayfield High School, said quick attention to an injury is crucial.
"The first 24 hours is critical to the outcome for many injuries," Kamps said. "Being able to treat an injury immediately has a positive effect."
Kamps is available to nonathletes, too - students, teachers or staff. She also will advise parents about injuries or nutrition or refer them to a physician.
"I try to be a resource for the community," Kamps said.
Tomlinson said the presence of an athletic trainer at a high school allows ongoing care for players.
"A lot of injuries occur in practice," Tomlinson said. "A player's injury can be taken care of immediately, and he or she knows that the athletic trainer will be there the next day for follow-up treatment or to start rehabilitation."
It's a different situation for sports not connected to the high schools.
A case in point: A 15-year-old Gunnison boy who lost consciousness during a hockey game at the Chapman Hill ice rink in February was taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center and later to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction with a head injury. A physician present at the game recognized the gravity of the situation, but such experts generally aren't on scene.
Fort Lewis College, with one of five accredited programs in Colorado, is a prime source of athletic trainers, Wayne Barger, head athletic trainer at FLC, said Friday. Twelve students currently are in the FLC
"professional" track program and 15 are participating in an introductory program.
Students going for a degree in athletic training get a minimum of 900 hours of hands-on work in six semesters, said Barger, who was a trainer for the men's field hockey team at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In addition to Barger, the college has three certified athletic trainers - Andy Vanous, Megan Pales and Carrie Meyer, who also is director of the athletic training education. They must cover practices, games and the training room.
Interest among high school students in athletic training has increased, Barger said. He attributed the surge to the visibility of athletic trainers at home games and their ability to "mentor" youths who show an interest in the field.