Sports Medicine No Longer a Sideline in High School Athletics

Summer vacation began only a week ago, but already some of Orange County’s more athletically minded high school students are back on campus preparing for the fall sports season.

Out on the football field at Edison High in Huntington Beach, cheerleaders are bounding and whooping; in the gym, athletes are grunting and sweating. And off in a classroom, about 25 young men and women from various county high schools are going through a rigorous workout of another kind--carefully wrapping and rewrapping each other’s feet and legs with gauze and white tape.

Not too long ago, high school athletes and coaches--even cheerleaders--tended to view the students who would wrap sore ankles and pack stiff arms in ice as mere water boys, barely worthy of a place on the bench. Increased attention on sports medicine, however, has changed all that, as shown by the Huntington Beach Unified School District’s Student Athletic Trainer Workshop this week.

Rather than studying blocking or flying wedge formations, the workshop students have been discussing peroneal tendon subluxation and osteochondral fractures of the talus. It’s their grasp of this seemingly unathletic knowledge that will make them integral members of their school’s teams, they hope.


The student athletic trainers workshop, sponsored by Pacifica Community Hospital in Huntington Beach, is designed to give students a basic understanding of sports medicine and athletic training techniques.

The immediate goal is to make sure there are plenty of qualified student assistants on the sidelines next year when football players begin bashing their bodies together. A secondary goal is to spur interest in professional athletic training and sports medicine.

The role of certified athletic trainers (and consequently of student assistants to those trainers) has increased significantly in the past 10 years. Since August, 1976, Huntington Beach’s Sunset sports district has required that each school have a full-time certified athletic trainer. The trainers at the workshop attribute this increased concern, in large part, to recent legal judgments against school districts.

“Orange County in particular has become more cognizant of the need for improving athletic training,” said Tom Hall, athletic trainer for Marina High School. This awareness, he added, “was brought on by publicity over lawsuits and liability in the last few years. We saw the need to do something not only to protect our kids, but to protect ourselves.”


For tuition of $60, the aspiring trainers have listened to lectures by such experts as Gary Tuthill, former athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Rams, and George Anderson, trainer for the Los Angeles Raiders.

Trainers from area high schools have given workshops on everything from pre-season conditioning to “immobilization and transporting the injured athlete,” and doctors have presented talks and slide shows on sports injuries and human anatomy, starting at the foot and winding up at the head and neck.

“To be honest with you, I was expecting them to fall asleep,” said Dr. Peter Reynolds, an orthopedic surgeon and consultant with Pacifica’s Sports Medicine Institute, after his presentation on injuries to the knee Tuesday afternoon. “They’d just eaten lunch, and I expected them to start nodding off, but they were very alert and acted very interested. They all asked very pointed and intelligent questions.”

George Anderson of the Raiders, who gave the group a pitch on his widely used Anderson “Stabilizer” knee braces, was impressed with the level of sophistication in the workshop.


“When I started as a trainer in 1949 (at San Jose State), you learned by the seat of your pants,” he said. “Now, they lose me, a lot of them, because they’re so knowledgeable.”

Better education has made a big improvement in athletic training, Anderson said. Coaches are much quicker to react to their players’ complaints, and trainers and doctors are better able to deal with the problems.

For instance, Reynolds explained that the generic “bum knee” that routinely ended athletic careers can now be more accurately diagnosed and treated, often with arthoscopic surgery, using a microphone connected to a television monitor.

Another effect of improved education is that a lot of the tenacious old “wives tales” of sports have finally gone the way of the leather helmet, instructors say.


Few coaches these days advise icing the injury and “running it off” as a cure, said Hall, of Marina High. And most coaches have abandoned the notion that the consumption of water impedes athletic performance.

“When I played high school sports, the coaches wouldn’t let you near a drinking fountain,” Hall said. “Now, at Marina, we have water breaks every half-hour. . . . We know it cuts down on fatigue and injury.”

One good indication that the job of student athletic trainer has overcome its water boy image is the fact that at this week’s workshop, only about a third of the participants were boys. And many of the students said they became interested in training not as an alternative to athletic activity, but because of it.

Tami Oien, 17, of Westminster High, is a devout field hockey player.


“I’ve been injured all my life,” she said, as she sat on a training table while twin sisters Shelli and Sharri Dickman, 17, of Ocean View High School, wrapped her legs with Elistikon elastic tape, Zonas porous tape and gauze.

“I get really involved and risk my body a lot,” Oien said, to the amusement of the girls for whom she was playing guinea pig. “My right ankle’s been sprained 12 times. My left ankle’s been sprained seven times. And they’ve always had to be taped. A lot of the time, I was a walking mummy.”

Partly because of those injuries, Oien has decided she wants to go into physical therapy. She saw the workshop as a good place to learn more about it.

“It gives me a good feeling to be able to help people. I know how it feels to get hurt and want to get back into a game.”


None of the instructors or speakers at the clinic were likely to argue with Oien’s sentiments.

“Athletic training is a relatively young profession,” said the Raiders’ Anderson. “You won’t get rich at it, at least not for a long time, but it’s got a lot of satisfaction. I’m 56 and I feel like I’m 30, probably because I’m with the team all the time--there are a lot of laughs.”

But there’s also the serious side, , Anderson said:

“I remember, they used to have these big seminars for high school coaches, and I’d ask them, ‘Why don’t you invite trainers to attend?’ They’d always say, ‘Oh, we don’t have time.’ ”


But that changed when a growing number of students were injured--and a few killed--and a barrage of lawsuits was filed. The resulting interest in safety has been a lifesaver, Anderson said.

“I’ve got a son who is an excellent athlete, and he went through the whole high school program. I’m just very glad there was someone well trained there who knew how to prevent injuries and who could handle emergency situations.”