Safety must come first according to retired athletic trainers

  • Matt Guth is the retired athletic trainer at Prospect High School. He is well aware of the challenges facing today's athletic trainers.

    Matt Guth is the retired athletic trainer at Prospect High School. He is well aware of the challenges facing today's athletic trainers. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Hersey's retired athletic trainer, Hal Hilmer

      Hersey's retired athletic trainer, Hal Hilmer Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/24/2020 7:43 PM

Nobody knows how challenging it is to be a high school head athletic trainer today than a couple of retired fellows who live not too far from each other in Palatine.

Hall of famers Matt Guth and Hal Hilmer served for more than three decades at their respective District 214 schools while accumulating numerous awards in the field.


Guth, who actually has worked part time on the Hersey staff up until this spring, was the longtime athletic trainer at Prospect High School.

Hilmer headed up the training staff at Hersey until retiring four years ago.

Both still have a close eye on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting local sports.

"I feel bad for the kids" Guth said. "But I think safety has to be our number one focus to manage this whole pandemic."

Guth's resume includes working in the United States Olympic Committee sports medicine program, briefly with the 1980 Olympic Hockey team, and traveling to Bulgaria for the 1983 Winter World University Games as part of the U.S. medical staff.

He worked on professional regulation in getting the Illinois Athletic Training Practice Act passed in 1986.

Hilmer was named the 1986 Illinois High School Athletic Trainer of the Year, an award for contributions to the profession of athletic training.

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In 1997, he was inducted into the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association's Hall of Fame.

"I really kind of question if it's going to go off or not," Hilmer said of high school sports this fall. "Unless we start seeing changes in these rates and cases going down.

"People were saying. 'OK, yeah but it doesn't affect the young kids'. Yeah but those young kids could easily get it and bring it home to family members and those type of things. Then you've got the staff members who could end up picking this stuff up."

Both former trainers clearly realize the difficulties that arise for today's athletic trainers.

"My God, there's so much to do with just the contact tracing, keeping track of who's what, when and where," Guth said. "For many years I've said that high school training rooms were understaffed for the number of athletes who we were dealing with."

Hilmer said even the outdoor sports like golf, tennis and cross country provide plenty of challenges.

"There's just going to be a lot of hoops they have to jump through to get the people to follow the rules," he said. "I'm sure there are a lot of coaches out there who are going to follow it to the letter and try to be as thoughtful as possible trying to protect the kids and everyone and themselves.


"But there are always going to be a few out there who are going to try and skirt the laws and try to do things and then you're got yourself a mess on your hands."

He added that a big issue is having enough people around enforcing the rules.

"You're not going to have enough people," he said. "That's going to fall on coaches, too. They're going to have to take temperatures every day. You can't just turn around and dump it on one of two people on your medical staff."

Hilmer said while you are dealing with the athletes, you also have the parents.

"First you've got to deal with the kids," he added. "You're going to have some who will say 'it really doesn't affect us as much' so they're not going to take it as seriously. There will be a few who do take it seriously because they see the big picture where the majority doesn't see the big picture, especially the younger ones who aren't as mature and don't think they have to do all that stuff."

Then there are the parents.

"Most will be appreciative of what you're doing," Hilmer said. "But there will always be one side calling it a hoax or saying we don't need to be doing this. It's hurting our kids' chance of getting a scholarship.

"On the other hand, you have parents who will be over the top concerned to the point where they don't even let the kids participate in a sport let alone show up to school."

Hilmer began at Hersey in 1979.

"We had AIDS come through (in the 1980s) and that was a big scare and concern until they slated to see the science and that see that this stuff does not live in oxygen,' he said. "So we could be a little less scared then whereas with this, they're still trying to figure our little nuances of this virus."

Hilmer envisions working in this climate as an athletic trainer is almost overwhelming.

"They're questioning things even at pro sports level," he said. " You're going to turn around and try to do it with high school kids? That's going to the tough."

"I'm OK with temperature checks and the noncontact activities," Guth said. "But when you're trying to play football or soccer, you're going to have contact and close quarters. While kids are relatively safe and very resilient, do you want to risk the fans, the parent, grandparents and all of that for the sake of the game?"

At this point and time, because he a little older, Guth said he may tend to err on side of caution more.

"Tennis, badminton, cross country and golf are some things where you individualize and can maintain some social distance, Guth said. "But to go into contact in close quarters something is going to happen," Guth said. "Look what happened in Lake Zurich (at least 36 students tested positive for COVID-19 last week). You just don't know."

Because it is already late in the summer, Guth does not see football being as robust as it would be with summer practices.

"Volleyball might make it," he added. "If they did anything, I would limit all competition to just in-conference only. Mitigate the risks by limiting exposure and keeping it in an contained environment."

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