If Andy Accardi were calling the shots, he would have herded as many up-and-coming athletic trainers as he could fit into his Dodge Caravan and driven them from St. Louis to the Sauk Valley.
Accardi attended the 2012 National Athletic Trainers Association meeting June 27-29. As he watched a seemingly endless stream of athletic trainers fresh out of college flow through the student lounge at the Edward Jones Dome, Accardi undoubtedly was brought back to 1992.
He’d just finished his graduate studies at the University of Nebraska, where he earned his master’s degree in education administration and roamed the sidelines as a graduate assistant athletic trainer for one of the most celebrated programs in college football history – during the Tom Osborne era, no less.
He also was the head athletic trainer for the track and field program. Two days after returning from the outdoor championships in New Orleans, he received a letter from Medical Arts Center in Sterling, which sought someone who could help launch its sports medicine program. A finalist for a job at Indiana University, he nearly balked at the opportunity.
“I actually threw the envelope away once and pulled it back out for a second look,” Accardi says.
Jumping on the opportunity found Accardi on the sidelines for the first Newman Central Catholic football game of the 1992 season.
Nineteen years later, he and KSB Hospital’s Dr. Joseph Welty have built the gold standard for sports medicine in prep sports. He doesn’t miss the 80,000-plus seats at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., as much as you’d think.
“At Nebraska, you were treated not just as a member of some big team,” Accardi says. “You were a family member. And Newman is the exact same way.
“The only thing that’s different is the size of the stadium we’re playing in. The size of the kids’ hearts is the same.”
Newman and Sterling are the only two high schools Sauk Valley Media covers that have a full-time athletic trainer. How do they make an arrangement like Accardi’s happen?
That’s the $64,000 question – as in, it often comes down to the almighty dollar.
With some creativity, a school could staff an athletic trainer for $15,000 or less.
“It’s the best money you’ll ever spend,” Newman football coach and Athletic Director Mike Papoccia said. “You can’t afford to not spend it.”
“On top of a teacher’s salary, what is $10,000 to $15,000 more?” Accardi said. “That was a big focus in St. Louis – the difference it makes to have someone there every day.”
On the surface, it’s admirable that clinics contract their athletic trainers to high schools free of charge.
But the arrangement ultimately has to make sense – and cents – for the clinic in the form of referrals.
FHN used to provide athletic trainers to Eastland High School for football games, but eventually dropped the school because the reciprocation wasn’t enough.
“The trainers were very good at what they did,” Eastland Athletic Director Doug Johnson said. “But they said we weren’t providing enough referrals. Unfortunately, money talks.”
Geography alone can hamstring what clinics will afford. FHN provided the West Carroll Thunder with an athletic trainer for two games last season, but the nearly hour-long drive to Savanna proved too much to make it a regular occurrence.
“It’s so important these days to have an athletic trainer, and I would love to have one,” West Carroll Athletic Director Clint Cowman said.
Cowman is anything but alone. Most local athletic directors would love to have a trainer. And not just under the lights on Friday nights, but in every arena.
“It’s a hot button in sports, whether it’s basketball, football or whatever sport,” said Fulton Athletic Director Derek Germann, who’s been a teacher at the school for 19 years and has served as athletic director for 6.
The bulk of those schools without trainers annually discuss the need for a trainer in some capacity, especially given the recent spike in concussion awareness.
“We talk about it every year,” AFC Athletic Director Ric Cupp said, “but finances are tough.”
Cupp points out that some schools – such as Oregon, Milledgeville and Bureau Valley – get a great deal on their trainers.
Even if it’s on Friday nights only, John Cain is on the sideline for the Hawks – and he has been for almost 20 years, which has allowed him to build trust with the coaches and players alike.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, especially with urgent things in games or practice,” Oregon head football coach John Bothe said. “He always makes the right call, whether it’s to keep a kid out or get him back into the game.”
Milledgeville alumnus Darrick Druce works every home Missiles football game and also worked all the Sauk Valley Predators home games during their inaugural basketball season.
Scott Salisbury lives in the Bureau Valley school district, which his kids attend. He is not only at all the home football games, but also visits the high school every Tuesday and Thursday to work with athletes. Before last year, he visited just one day a week.
A Storm booster, Salisbury works for a cut rate.
“It’s really not enough for his services, but he’s happy to do it,” Bureau Valley football coach and Athletic Director Jeff Ohlson admits.
Build a family
Welty has helped set the bar not only at Newman, but also within the Accardi family as their physician.
“I will put him up against anyone in the nation,” Accardi said. “He doesn’t want to be there for the glory. He’s there for the kids. He believes in Newman, and he loves Newman.”
The two met 12 years ago, when Welty’s son, Anthony, was getting his equipment for the football season.
It’s just one of many serendipitous encounters that expedited Accardi’s success. The memory also reminds him to keep his eyes open for opportunities.
He saw dozens of them chomping at the bit in St. Louis.
“I could’ve gotten a kid out of college who would’ve busted his ass and made an immediate impact,” Accardi laments. “Even if they’d move on in 2 years, it would be worth it. And who knows? Maybe they’ll like it, like the area and settle down.
“Look at me.”
Who’s got what?
On Friday nights, you can expect to see the following medical personnel on their respective school’s sideline:
Amboy – Dr. Kurt Crowe, from KSB; EMTsAFC – Chiropractor; volunteer EMTs from fire departmentBureau Valley – Part-time athletic trainer Scott Salisbury; EMTsDixon – Dr. David Deets, KSB Dixon; EMTsEastland-Pearl City – EMTsErie-Prophetstown – Physical therapist from Hammond-Henry in Geneseo; EMTsMilledgeville – Part-time athletic trainer Darrick Druce, EMTsMorrison – Volunteer chiropractor Dr. John Miller; EMTs from Morrison Health Care CenterNewman – Full-time athletic trainer Andy Accardi; at least one of the following: Dr. Joseph Welty; Dr. Shawn Hanlon; Dr. William Long; Dr. Jonathan Ortman; all from KSB; EMTsOregon – Part-time athletic trainer John Cain; EMTsRock Falls – Part-time athletic trainer Shane Brown; EMTsSterling – Full-time athletic trainer Andi Sumerfelt; Dr. Tyler Gunderson, from KSB; EMTsFulton – Vounteer EMTsPolo – Occasionally a volunteer athletic trainer; paid EMTsWest Carroll – EMTs
To read more from our special series on sports concussion, please check out The Hidden Injury project page on saukvalley.com. Click here to visit.