Courtesy/ Shana Gilley

Weatherford High School student athletic trainers Skyler Galloway, standing left center, and Marlee Whitling, standing right center, are two of many in their position within Parker County and beyond who have lost a chance at valuable hands-on experience this school year due to COVID-19.

While the effects of athletic program shutdowns on student athletes stemming from the current COVID-19 pandemic have shown themselves in many forms, including lost game experience, less opportunity to build cases for college scholarships and irreplaceable time with teammates and coaches gone, similar consequences have also hurt those working behind the scenes.

Student athletic trainers, who are responsible for a wide array of duties such as treating heat illness, keeping athletes hydrated, taping up injuries (including ankles and broken digits for example) all while acting as the metaphorical eyes and ears for high schools’ professional trainers have also faced new challenges, Weatherford High School Trainer Dylan Dawson said.

“In our program we only have sophomores through seniors, and those sophomores a lot of the time, they’re working with freshman and JV sporting events, so it may take a couple years to actually get to that varsity level,” Dawson said.

“I’ve got a student who waited to work with varsity baseball for two years, and then she got her senior year cut short. 

“These kids come in and do their due diligence, and as they say, you pay your dues, but then those seniors got their time cut short. It has affected our younger kids too, not getting to do spring football is huge for our kids that are brand new to the program. That’s kind of how they’re really getting their feet wet in the spring, because football is a beast of its own and it’s all hands on deck. And when we get to August, they have to know what they’re doing. So missing out on spring football is definitely going to affect how our fall goes. We’re probably going to have to do some more orientation.”

With many student athletic trainers looking to pursue some sort of career in the medical field down the road, the hands-on experience they get during high school is invaluable, Brock High School Head Athletic Trainer Greg Connors said. 

“As of right now there are no college credits offered, but [student trainers] do receive valuable internship hours that carry over into any medical-related field they would like to apply for post high school,” Connors said.

Relatedly, that first-hand field experience working with high school athletic teams gives student trainers a prime opportunity to gauge their interest in pursuing such career paths, Weatherford High School Athletic Trainer Bo Bryant said.

“A lot of them go on to do some kind of career in sports medicine,” Bryant said.

“It’s not specifically athletic training, it can be physical therapy, or they can become an orthopedic surgeon. We’ve had some that have gone on to use athletic training as a stepping stone to something that’s a little higher up, even some veterinarians. So they’re just getting their feet wet in the medical world, getting to have that hands-on opportunity early on in life to see if it’s gonna be something they are gonna want to pursue further and to challenge themselves to be later on in life.”

For Weatherford HS sophomore student athletic trainer Emma Wolfenberger, the inability to perform her duties working with the school’s athletic teams this spring has proven tough, the underclassman said.

“There are many things I love about athletic training, but my favorites are probably the learning aspect and relationships that form through the program,” Wolfenberger said.

“You learn so much in such a short time, and I’ve missed out on a lot of learning due to COVID-19. We do have online class, but it’s not really the same experience. 

“I also wouldn’t be close friends with some people without athletic training. We work with student athletes all the time. I see them more than my own family. So I’ve grown a big connection towards these people, especially when I did basketball this year. It’s really an amazing experience. I’ve grown such close relationships with some of the seniors, and it was really heartbreaking for me that I can’t properly say goodbye to them. I’ve also missed the opportunity to meet our incoming trainers before the rush of football season. They were supposed to help out with spring football, but due to the coronavirus, it was cancelled. It’s a really great time to become friends with them, and create those bonds.”

With that said, Wolfenberger, who said her time in the school’s sports medicine I class quickly fostered a deep love for the job, stressed that even the limited time she was allowed to work this spring with Weatherford athletics proved invaluable. 

“This program has prepared me more for a medical career in the future than any other class I will take in high school,” Wolfenberger said.

“I’m planning on going into nursing school and eventually becoming a doctor, so my experience here has helped a lot.”

Unlike Wolfenberger, fellow Weatherford student athletic trainer Ashley Bonnett, a senior whose love for anatomy and sports spurred her to join the program, will not get another chance to strengthen those bonds with her fellow Roos and Lady Roos later this year, a reality the upperclassman said she lamented.

“My favorite things about athletic training are my teams and coaches,” Bonnett said.

“We have some of the most hard-working and dedicated people in this program, and we are led by some of the most committed coaches I’ve ever met. They truly care about us not only as their students but more importantly as kids going through stuff. I also really love being around the baseball coaches and team. 

“Baseball season getting cut short my senior year really made me sad, because some of these guys I’ll never see again.”

In addition to the individual setbacks faced by student athletic trainers, this spring’s athletic program shutdowns have also hurt high schools’ training programs, which often utilize sports medicine classes to build interest in the program, as a whole, Connors said.

“More than anything I believe it’s hurt possibly bringing out more kids to join our athletic training program,” Connors said.

“With it being my first year, I’ve been using my sports medicine classes to recruit and bring out interested students to apply what they’ve learned in class out on the field or court.”

Bryant said it has been difficult on a personal level seeing student athletic trainers miss out on all the above positive experiences related to working within the program.

“It just makes you feel sick for them to know those memories aren’t going to be there, it’s going to be a different type of memory,” Bryant said.

“And personally, I feel bad not being able to see them everyday and help them through the chaos that’s been going on. It’s unfortunate, it’s a piece of history, not just statewide but nationwide they’ve lived through. They are going to have a story to tell someday.”

However, despite all the challenges faced by such programs this school year, Brock senior student athletic trainer Claire Duvall said, at least for her personally, it is an experience she will cherish and look back fondly on for years to come.

“I had been an athletic trainer my eighth grade year, and didn’t do it again until this past year,” Duvall said.

“I can honestly say it was my favorite impulsive decision of my whole senior year [to return]. The experience was great, I developed tons of friendships that I’ll cherish forever.” 

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