POINT PLEASANT — High temperatures, long practices and a lull in water can be a deadly combination, fortunately, certified athletic trainers are on-site in Mason County Schools to help athletes handle the heat.
Manager of Sports Medicine with Pleasant Valley Hospital and Head Athletic Trainer at Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School, Gabe Roush, spoke with Ohio Valley Publishing about the importance of certified athletic trainers in schools.
“Athletic trainers are actually allied healthcare professionals that work in conjunction with physicians and therapists and really across the spectrum of healthcare to provide proper healthcare for student athletes, particularly in the high school setting. Which is what I deal with right now,” Roush said.
Certified athletic trainers do more than just focus on practice injuries.
“They really focus on injury prevention, injury maintenance and rehabilitation and have experience in just general illness and everything,” Roush said. “Just to keep an eye on athletes and take care of them through that whole process while they’re participating in sports.”
While athletic trainers are important for student athletes, Roush said not all secondary schools have access to trainers.
“The big thing is, especially in the state of West Virginia, it’s less than half of the secondary schools in West Virginia have access to athletic trainers,” Roush said. “We’re really pushing that because anytime you send a kid to practice in a full-contact sport, obviously they’re at risk of injury. And not really affording that to all kids really across the state, really it’s not fair.”
West Virginia only requires football to have athletic trainers on-site.
“The only sport that requires to have any type of medical coverage in the state of West Virginia is football. So that leaves girl’s soccer just hanging in the wind, when in all reality they have a higher injury rate when it comes to concussions and ACL [injuries],” Roush said.
Roush said athletic trainers are trying to show the importance of having them on-site for all student athletes.
“So, it’s potentially a Title 9 issue in a lot of our eyes, but we’re just trying to show decision makers the relevance and the pertinence of having athletic trainers at all schools, both middle school and high school,” Roush said.
With the increase in temperatures during the start of fall sports, protecting students from the heat is one of the bigger focuses for athletic trainers.
“That’s always a big concern all throughout August and the early part of September,” Roush said. “Of course, ATs [athletic trainers] are highly trained and prepared for the situation if a kid experiences a heat-related illness. That’s something we go through, kind of vigorously through school. Doing continuing education…really trying to put forth the best practice in terms of taking care of a kid that might be overcome by heat, so we’ve helped develop protocols and procedures for our schools to make sure that in the case a student-athlete does develop that we know what to do as quick as possible and then when to send out with EMS.”
While athletic trainers have policies in place and are able to react to a heat-related illness quickly, prevention policies are also practiced.
“Also, since a big role as athletic trainers is injury prevention, we also work in conjunction with the SSAC [West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission] to implement policies and procedures to help prevent that from happening in the first place,” Roush said. “We keep a close eye on the heat index of our venues and make any modifications of our equipment or practice times or the frequency and duration of water breaks as well.”
All Mason County high schools have access to athletic trainers that work together.
“All three of our Mason County Schools are staffed with athletic trainers from Pleasant Valley Hospital,” Roush said. “So, we’re able to implement a consistent procedure across the entire county. It pretty much falls in line with the State of West Virginia and the SSAC, that once it gets up to a certain amount of degrees in the heat index, that’s when we start making adjustments to practice times or like, the equipment, taking off shoulder pads, stuff like that.”
When situations arise and students have been taken over by the heat, Roush said it is important to cool their core temperature. He said studies across the board show this as an effective way to prevent heat stroke and help save a student’s life.
“The biggest one that I think needs to be really taken seriously for other [times] as well, is the fact that if a kid does go down with a heat-related illness, the first thing you do is you cool that student athlete instantly,” Roush said. “There should be a cold tub, regardless of what the container is, a tub of water where you can dump ice on the student-athlete to try and bring that core temperature down before you even transport with the EMS.”
Water intake is the most important thing to fight the heat.
“It almost sounds cliche because this is pounded into every kid’s head in every health class from grade school all the way up, is maintaining proper hydration and a proper diet,” Roush said. “That’s going to be the number one preventative measure.”
Roush recommends avoiding greasy and deep fried foods. He said carbs and higher protein are good for athletes to help rebuild muscle tissue and to not be afraid to use a little bit of salt to replenish what you sweat out.
One thing Roush points out is that the water a student drinks today, is to replenish the body from yesterday.
“If a student-athlete is drinking enough water throughout the day to replenish all the sweat that they’ve excreted from the practice the day before,” Roush said. “Because once their body reaches that level where they are becoming dehydrated their body has kind of reached a stress level already. So you start going out in higher temperatures, exerting yourself at a high level. Your body is already at a disadvantage to try to cool itself anyways, so you’re really working against yourself.”
Roush said there are steps to try to help ensure the athletes are hydrating their bodies.
“We traditionally do weigh-in and weigh-out charts particularly when we know there’s going to be hot weather,” Roush said. “Two-a-days are definitely the time that we really play close attention to that, especially right after summer break. Cause not all kids are out staying conditioned and staying acclimated to the weather. We just monitor that body weight loss, which is essentially water-weight loss, to make sure that they’re staying replenished and get back to that original weight.”
Roush said COVID has made keeping the students hydrated more of a challenge.
“We’ve had to adjust our hydration practices, where we don’t have shared bottles, obviously,” Roush said. “We have to try to rely on student-athletes to bring their own bottles, but then they forget so you try to provide bottled water, it’s just been a challenge for athletic trainers across the nation. It just adds another layer of difficulty in terms of preventing heat illness because it’s hard to get teenagers to drink water anyways.”
With COVID-19 being predominant in everyday life, there are concerns for students who may have had the virus. With the various forms of information out there, Roush said it is always best to discuss concerns and be checked out with the student’s pediatrician.
“We typically leave that in the hands of the pediatrician or the treating physician if a kid does comes down with COVID, especially in the case if a student does come down with more severe symptoms,” Roush said. “I know it’s becoming more recommended for student-athletes to undergo an EKG following a rough bout with COVID.”
Roush said the athletic trainers do not know student vaccine status, but do work to stay prepared and up-to-date on anything else to watch.
“In terms of the vaccine itself, I know those numbers seems to be a little bit lower as well, in terms of a cardiovascular issue,”Roush said. “It’s just something that we’re always keeping a close eye on anyways because a cardiac event is something that we’re prepared to help manage and take care of on the field until EMS arrive. It’s always in the back of our mind anyways.”
Mason County athletic trainers are on-site for all practices — middle and high school — and home games. The high school football games are the only required travel games.
Roush said the athletic trainers in Mason County try to make themselves as available as possible all year long for any sports events.
When it comes to athletic trainers, Roush said not to be afraid to utilize them, he encourages it.
“Athletic trainers have a vast knowledge in orthopedic injuries, a lot of training in concussion diagnosis and management to really help those students along,” Roush said. “I know sometimes a kid twists his ankle, sometimes the parents knee-jerk reaction would be to head to the ER. However, that AT has that background where they can evaluate and if it is something that’s necessary to head to the ER, we’re like ‘yeah go.’ Or if it’s just a routine sprain, we’re like ‘no let’s take a step back, this is something we can treat pretty conservatively’ and that essentially saves them an unnecessary trip to the ER, especially in these times with COVID, we don’t want to overwhelm our ERs any more than they might be.”
Mason County is one of the few counties in the state that have all three junior and senior high school students covered by an athletic trainer. Roush said Pleasant Valley Hospital makes that possible with the restraint on school budgets.
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Brittany Hively is a staff reporter at Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (740) 446-4303.