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Sports medicine class teaches important life skills

Louise Aparicio-Weil
The sports medicine clinic at College Park High School is open for student athletes who need a rehabilitation program and is staffed by students studying sports medicine.

Like many student-athletes, Marisa Rabanal, a senior lacrosse player at College Park High School, has suffered from her fair share of injuries.

However, while she could have simply played with her injuries without a second thought, she didn’t because of the resources offered by the Pleasant Hill school’s sports medicine class.  

Rabanal has paid multiple visits to an after-school clinic offered by the program. She has not only had her injuries evaluated and treated, but she’s also learned the importance of receiving treatment in the first place.

“I probably would have just kept playing on it or rested it and eventually gone back,” she said. “I wouldn’t have taken it seriously.”

Rabanal is one of many student-athletes who have attended the clinic, staffed by fellow students and open every day after school. The sports medicine class not only provides a place for athletes to be treated, but is an opportunity for students to study kinesiology, human anatomy and emergency medicine.

Thirty-four students enrolled in the class are required to dedicate time after school to staff the clinic, sports practices and events. This allows them to gain hands-on experience and apply the knowledge they use in class in a practical environment. 

Grace Tymo, a 12th grader,  stays after school for the clinic nearly every school day and has taken the lead in becoming the designated sports medicine student for the girls soccer team under the supervision of the class teacher. 

For each clinic, she has a list of specific athletes who come in for different reasons, such as evaluation or rehabilitation. For each athlete, depending on their needs, she goes through evaluations, performs special tests to identify injuries, and starts/continues a rehabilitation program.  

That experience of working with athletes includes giving students like Tymo the push they need to develop their own voices, which can be especially challenging but equally beneficial for those with a timid personality.

“The more time I put into this, the more I get out of it,” Tymo said. “I feel more at ease with myself and with talking to new people. I have adopted that mindset into my daily life of just trusting myself and applying that confidence into all aspects of my life.”

Taking a sports medicine class can also offer advantages after high school. Sarah Butterfield, a former College Park student, had been planning on going into nursing. It was only after taking the sports medicine class that she discovered other medical careers. Now she is in her first year at UC Berkeley and plans to pursue a career in physical therapy.

“Physical therapy was something I wasn’t really even aware of prior to taking sports medicine,” she said. “And now it’s something that I’ve become genuinely passionate about, interested, and comfortable in.”

Taking the class has also given her an advantage in some of her college classes, such as her intro to physiology class. With the knowledge and experience gained in high school, she was not only able to breeze through the coursework, but she helped her fellow classmates when they encountered  challenging material.

“You gain so much clinical and rehabilitative experience in the training room evaluating injuries and developing and administering different plans of care,” she said. “You even get a taste for research as you explore in class how medicine is constantly changing and expanding, and just how intuitive and conceptual a lot of it can be and more.”

Dual role of teacher

As of this year, Contra Costa County has about 20 high schools with a sports medicine program, estimates Ronald Roberts, who teaches the College Park class and is the school’s only athletic trainer.

This role is significant, Roberts said, because many California schools do not have an athletic trainer. During a high school sporting event there may be a physical therapist present, an EMT, or even an orthodontist, but no athletic trainer save for the sports with a higher risk for injury such as football.

This is partly due to the fact that California doesn’t recognize the profession and provide a licensing program for athletic trainers. According to the California Athletic Trainers’ Association, “California is the ONLY state in the entire United States and its Territory that has no regulation whatsoever for who can call themselves an ‘Athletic Trainer.’”

This means that California schools aren’t required to provide athletic trainers, and if they do have one, they aren’t required to provide any paperwork regulated by the state.

“College Park, having the number of students and student-athletes it does, if it were in almost any other state [we’d] would have two-to-three full-time athletic trainers employed,” Roberts  said.

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends that the ratio of athletic trainer to athlete be 1 trainer for every 300 students. At College Park, that ratio is 1 trainer for every 1,030 students, and that one trainer is Roberts.

“I am being asked to do the work of three to four athletic trainers,” said Roberts. “The students’ help is greatly needed and appreciated to fill this void.”

Athletic trainers want legislation

Roberts is just one of many athletic trainers in California fighting for a change in legislation.

“We have been trying for almost 30 years to get state regulations in place but have been vetoed by the governor every time,” Roberts said.”

According to an article from The Los Angeles Times, there have been three separate bills (2010, 2014, 2015) written in favor of having increased regulation for athletic trainers. They all passed through the California Assembly, but were all vetoed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown. 

The article said Brown felt the bill would put too many limits on the profession and make it illegal to use the title of athletic trainer without a college degree and “without sufficient evidence that they are really needed.”

Despite these failed attempts, Roberts and fellow athletic trainers choose to look forward. “As an organization, we are optimistic that the current bill that is in process will be successful.”

According to the LA Times article, AB 796, would create a regulatory board for athletic trainers within the Department of Consumer Affairs that would govern licensing and oversight.

*Additional resources:

Interested in Becoming an Athletic Trainer?

Louise Aparicio-Weil is a 12th grader at College Park High School in Pleasant Hill and enrolled in the sports medicine class. 

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