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Open-door policy: Full-time athletic trainers bond with athletes

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 2:00 p.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 2:50 p.m. CST
Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Sterling athletic trainer Andi Sumerfelt administers ultrasound therapy to Cornell Hartz’s ankle before Sterling High School’s summer football camp begins.

Taped to the outside of the athletic trainer’s room door in Musgrove Fieldhouse is an invitation.

Andi Sumerfelt welcomes any students interested in sports medicine to her after-school, extracurricular program for the 2012-13 school year. After all, when she sees bright-eyed student athletic trainers, it brings her back to her junior year at Shakopee High School, in her Minnesota hometown.

She was the only female member of the hockey team and, evidently, the only one wired for action when the team’s goaltender took a slapshot off his neck, right where it met his jaw and precisely where there was no equipment to protect him.

Sumerfelt quickly skated to retrieve some snow the Zamboni had cleared off the surface, and an athletic trainer was born.

Video: Click here to view an interview with Andi Sumerfelt

“That was kind of a start right there, even before I knew what I wanted to do,” Sumerfelt said. “I didn’t even know what athletic trainers were.”

“In high school, we didn’t have athletic trainers,” Newman athletic trainer Andy Accardi said.

He got the bug as a pre-med student at the University of Illinois, when an ankle injury playing basketball his sophomore year eventually landed him in the rehab center.

“As I talked to them, I started to think about their line of work,” Accardi said. “It sounded pretty neat.”

Similarly, CGH director of physical recruitment and Rock Falls High School’s part-time trainer, Shane Brown, had a first brush with his future when he tore the meniscus in his right knee during his junior year at Effingham High School. He was fascinated with the rehab process and saw that same look in his athletes’ eyes when he was the full-time trainer at Sterling.

“It’s not just athletic training. We’re teaching,” Brown said.

“There’s a reason psychology is part of our education,” said Sumerfelt, who got her degree at Winona State University.

When Brown completed his master’s degree at Eureka College and got promoted at CGH, he could no longer be a full-time trainer. He misses the bonds he formed with athletes, not to mention the satisfaction of ensuring their safety.

“I know the kids aren’t getting all the care they should have, especially when it comes to concussions,” Brown said. “I’m not there. I’m a Band-Aid.

“And I’d walk away tomorrow if I knew someone could be there every day.”

Through the window she went

Sumerfelt didn’t leave Dixon High School on her own terms. Instead, her position was eliminated when KSB Hospital severed its ties with Rebound Physical Therapy.

The clinic had contracted her to the high school as a free service for 8 years after she spent 5 at Polo High School.

Dixon didn’t make a move to retain her.

“They’d gotten the service for so long,” Accardi said, “that they didn’t see why they should pay for it.”

Saying goodbye broke Sumerfelt’s heart, considering the relationships she was fostering with athletes, their families, coaches and the community.

“Some things fell apart,” Sumerfelt said. “But what do they say? When a door closes, a window opens. Everything was like pieces of the puzzle that fit together, and a month after I started working here, it felt like I’d been here forever.”

When Brown got promoted, then-Sterling Athletic Director Bruce Scheidegger quickly recognized the massive void.

“It quickly became very evident how valuable Shane was for our kids, not just to be onsite for games, but to be there throughout the course of a day,” Scheidegger said.

He aggressively looked into his options, which included the suddenly available Sumerfelt. A phone call to Accardi sealed the deal, about 13 years after he recognized her skill set in Dallas.

Coincidentally, back in 1994, it was Accardi who interviewed Sumerfelt in Dallas for her position with Medical Arts Center, which was later bought out by KSB.

“It’s funny how things come full circle,” Accardi said. “Dixon’s loss was Sterling’s gain, and she is where she wants to be now.”

It’s all about trust

Machismo, fear and great expectations. Those are just a few of the myriad reasons an athlete might not let a coach know they don’t feel quite right upstairs.

But what if they were talking to the bubbly attendance secretary they share a laugh with every day?

“It’s really nice to have a trainer you can talk to and trust,” Sterling graduate and 2011 SVM Football Player of the Year Alejandro Rivera said. “You can let Andi know about any of your problems. She’s an upbeat person, she knows what she’s talking about, and she’s not going to make you feel dumb.”

Students don’t just get to know Sumerfelt. It’s a two-way street, allowing her to identify if an athlete isn’t acting like themselves.

“The brain is so complex. [Concussions] can be similar, but everyone reacts a little differently,” Sumerfelt said. “I’ve seen every emotional reaction you could imagine.”

While Sumerfelt laments leaving Dixon as relationships were growing, the difference is night and day in Sterling, where she works 12 hours a day. In Dixon, she’d work in the clinic and go to the high school in the afternoon.

“I’m getting to know the parents so much more because I’m getting to know them in a curricular capacity and an extracurricular capacity,” Sumerfelt said.

Restoring order

When Sumerfelt arrived at Sterling High School, her work space wasn’t quite how Brown had left it 5 years prior.

Clutter had piled up on two of the training room’s treatment tables. And wedged between two others – one of which Brown had built from scratch – was a hulking machine used to clean the floor.

It undoubtedly looked like a lot of work. But Sumerfelt already had come a long way.

So she cleared both the clutter and assorted expired products – and 5 years later, she’s still adding luster.

Her space is immaculate, and the tables look fresh out of an IKEA catalog. Well, IKEA for athletic trainers. That table Brown built? It now boasts pristine vinyl and a fresh coat of Sterling navy blue.

“The hot tub is next,” Sumerfelt said. “I was just at Menards this morning.”

The yearbook

The brick wall behind Sumerfelt’s training tables is like her very own yearbook.

Athletic tape bears the names of nearly every student-athlete she’s worked with over the past 5 years.

“How is that tape even sticking anymore?” asks Cornell Hartz, as Sumerfelt administers ultrasound therapy on his ankle.

On the pipe’s padding across the room are the Hartzes, the Schneiderbauers and the Fritsches. The “Tiger Woods” tape-ograph? That’s really Ember Schuldt, of course.

And just a few feet above one of the tables are the autographs of two future Golden Warriors – Luke and Reiley Austin, Principal Jason Austin’s sons.

“I feel I have one of the most rewarding jobs in the world,” Sumerfelt said. “They know I’m here to help them and that I’ll do anything I can to help them – even if it’s sending them to the emergency room – and then they know I’m going to be here for them to go through rehab afterwards, if they need it.”

More online

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.

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