More than injuries now on athletic trainers' plates
They might have to be the "bad cops."
Then again, athletic trainers are kind of used to that.
They are charged with taking care of athletes. And sometimes that goes along with exactly what the athletes want ... and sometimes, it doesn't.
Athletic trainers help injured athletes get back in the game, but often not as fast as those athletes want.
Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, athletic trainers at high schools across the country will be charged with making practices and competitions sanitary and safe and sometimes that will go along with exactly what everyone wants and expects ... and sometimes, it won't.
"People will be looking to us and we will have to be like 'Yeah, you can do that,' or 'No you can't,' " said Glen Gerdes, the head athletic trainer at Grayslake Central who is heading into his 24th year at the school. "There will be times where we're going to have to be the bad cops, telling coaches that 'Hey, you've got to get these kids more spread out,' or 'Hey, you can't do that drill.' "
As if athletic trainers don't already have enough to do on a normal day with taping ankles, nursing wounds, rehabbing serious injuries and tending to nagging injuries, the COVID-19 pandemic and the IHSA's reopening plan for high school sports just added way more to their plates.
"We will be having to work harder, no question," said Gerdes, who admits that many athletic training staffs are already stretched with usually only one to two full-time trainers and a few student volunteers. "We will have check-in procedures on a daily basis. We will be taking the temperatures of every athlete every day. We just bought eight new hand-held thermometers.
"The water bottles we supply during practice are going to have to be sanitized every day, and so will the training room. We have so many cleaning supplies now. Everything will always have to be cleaned and sanitized. And then we're going to have to be really watching, watching for kids who don't look OK, watching that coaches keep practices spread out and with not too many kids in one spot. It's going to be a huge challenge with sports like football and soccer."
Gerdes, who has three sports-minded kids of his own, wants to see sports return to as close to normal as much as anyone.
But he cautions that it will be a slow process and that the kids need to do their part, too.
And that has Gerdes worried. Stopping the spread can be as easy as making smart personal choices out in public. But can everyone, particularly teenagers, be trusted with that responsibility?
Gerdes believes that basic COVID-19 prevention techniques could be considered a form of teamwork by athletes, taking care of themselves to take care of each other.
"That's why everyone needs to take the proper precautions, including the kids, and I see way too many examples on social media of kids not taking the precautions seriously," Gerdes said. "Kids of that generation seem to care the least about doing the safety measures. Kids still need to wear masks, they need to clean themselves carefully with hand-washing. We want these kids coming back to get their full sports experience and not be like the poor spring sports kids. But the message is, everyone needs to be smart."
The consequences for lax behavior could be dire.
In close-contact sports, illnesses, even the most generic, benign ones, can spread through entire teams like wildfire. COVID-19 could be an entirely different beast.
As much as Hersey trainer Rick Bacon wants to see close-contact sports such as football and soccer play on as usual this fall, he is skeptical, simply because of that constant proximity of athletes that is simply a part of those sports.
"As much as I want to see those seasons happen, I'm just not sure with how much contact that takes place between the athletes," said Bacon, entering his fifth year at the school. "The kids are of the mindset that they are going to be playing in the fall, but creating a safe environment will be tough. I just would hate to start something and then not be able to finish it because we get a second wave in the fall. That's the big concern with all the other trainers I talk to. What's going to happen in the fall?"
To increase the odds of a season happening, schools around the state are committed to the CDC and Illinois Department of Health guidelines and are open to any new ideas and rules, however inconvenient and cumbersome, that could aid in the process. Many schools will limit training room capacity, locker room capacity and implement staggered practice times.
"You've got one shot to have a season, and if you don't follow the rules and take precautions, you could lose that," Gerdes said. "I still think a full return to sports is really important. We want that. At some point, we need to get back to normal. We all do.
"Should we wait for a vaccine? Yeah, that would be ideal. But we are a country that is based on interaction. We have to get back to that. We just have to be very responsible in how we do that and we have to do it in a way that is very appropriate."