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Column: Train of thought needs re-training

Christopher Heimerman is assistant sports editor at Sauk Valley Media. He can be 
reached at and 800-798-4085, Ext. 552.
Christopher Heimerman is assistant sports editor at Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at and 800-798-4085, Ext. 552.

Not having an athletic trainer is forgivable. Refusing to acknowledge the need for one? That’s different.

I sat down with Dixon School District Superintendent Mike Juenger and Athletic Director Jon Empen, hoping for some answers about what life was like after Andi Sumerfelt lost her job, and Dixon lost her free services as athletic trainer.

KSB Hospital’s Dr. David Deets is one the sidelines during the Dukes’ home football games. That’s encouraging.

But Juenger said the topic of hiring an athletic trainer never comes up at quarterly meetings. And Empen said no parents have brought up the need for one.

That’s unsettling.

With the recent attention on concussions, I can’t believe no one’s asking questions about who’s looking out for their children’s well-being.

I’m sure Dr. Deets is a fine surgeon. And I’m sure the EMTs who volunteer on Friday nights are perfectly qualified to do their job. In fact, Newman athletic trainer Andy Accardi speaks glowingly of Fulton’s EMTs, describing them as not only open to learning more but also thirsty for knowledge.

But EMTs are limited in what they can do. If an athlete feels fuzzy upstairs? Boom. Hospital.

Only a certified athletic trainer or licensed physician can clear an athlete to return to play if they’re removed because a concussion is suspected.

An athletic trainer who knows the athlete and, better yet, is trusted, can evaluate right there on the sideline.

There’s no substitute for the education and training Accardi and other athletic trainers receive.

They’re finely tuned to assure athletes’ safety. And their degrees don’t come easy. They must pass a three-part exam, including written, oral and simulated portions. How hard is it? Rock Falls athletic trainer Shane Brown admits he needed two tries to pass it.

Empen assured me that, if an official suspects a player might have a concussion, the athlete is removed from the game. But that’s not the official’s job. That onus should not be placed on them, the coaches, the athletes, the parents … you get my point.

Instead, that responsibility should exclusively rest with someone trained to handle it.

Dixon’s head football coach, Dave Smith, in his first year spearheaded a complete replacement of the team’s helmets and pads. Empen says there were no concussions last year, while past seasons yielded more than a few.

Great news, but also a trap. It takes more than a new Riddell bucket to solve the concussion problem, as we’ll address in the next installment of this series. It will focus on equipment and youth football.

But, back to the task at hand, low concussion numbers can’t allow us to put the subject out of sight, out of mind. We must maintain a proactive mentality, not adopt a reactive one.

As I took a tele-tour of the Sauk Valley over the past 2 weeks, speaking with every athletic director in our coverage area, I had no idea what to expect, save for the few situations I was briefed about before undertaking this project.

Some athletic directors sounded ready to sacrifice a portion of their salary if it meant gaining an athletic trainer. Some almost audibly shrugged their shoulders. It sounded like they’d either given up on the prospect of hiring a trainer or, worse, didn’t see the benefit of finding one.

I’m not unrealistic. I know it took certain stars aligning for Sterling to land Sumerfelt. She was able to slide into the attendance secretary position, and her athletic trainer pay – raised by the Sterling Booster Club, ahem – was tacked onto that position’s salary. Similarly, Accardi teaches a handful of classes.

Not only are the full-time roles their livelihood, supplemented by the 10 grand or so they’re paid for their athletic training responsibilities. Those roles also allow them to get to know the student-athletes on a level one can’t reach if they’re not at the school on a daily basis.

I know it’s not easy to find these hybrid positions. But life isn’t easy. And it’s potentially short. In order to give members of the next generation the best shot at long, productive lives, folks need to think outside the box about addressing concussions.

Accardi and Sumerfelt attend every conference they can, always on the lookout for chances to be better educated, and to be better. They conduct seminars and after-school programs to help others do the same.

Similarly, we should never be content with the job we’re doing to ensure the safety of young adults. There’s no room for apathy in the arena of our kids’ future.

The following educational content standards are required for athletic training degree programs:

• Risk management and injury prevention

• Pathology of injuries and illnesses

• Orthopedic clinical examination and diagnosis

• Medical conditions and disabilities

• Acute care of injuries and illnesses

• Therapeutic modalities

• Conditioning, rehabilitative exercise and referral

• Pharmacology

• Psychosocial intervention and referral

• Nutritional aspects of injuries and illnesses

• Health care administration

– 46 states, including Illinois, require athletic trainers to hold the Board of Certification credential of Athletic Trainer, Certified (ATC)

More online

To read more from our special series on sports concussion, please check out The Hidden Injury project page on Click here to visit.

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