High school athletic trainers reverse field to help out during COVID-19 crisis

By Updated: April 06, 2020 12:17 PM CT | Published: April 06, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Typically, Chris Smith would be hopping this time of year.

Smith is the athletic trainer at Hernando High School and with March turning into April, he’d be able to count on a steady diet of baseball and softball games, track meets and spring football to keep him busy. But with high school sports on hold in DeSoto County, Shelby County and everywhere else due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19, Smith has had to switch gears.


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And in doing so, he and other athletic trainers in the area are lending a valuable hand. Instead of being laid off or furloughed – like some of their compatriots in other parts of the country – the 22 local athletic trainers employed by OrthoSouth are now working as screeners at the company’s eight Mid-South locations. 

It’s certainly not as fun as a night at the ballfield but it’s important work and Smith said he’s glad to help despite it being something that he didn’t necessarily sign up for.

“One thing that was pretty sobering was looking at my (original) schedule (for the spring),” he said. “(Wednesday) we were supposed to have a softball game. Last weekend, we were going to have a big tournament and play multiple baseball games. ‘Oh, we’re supposed to be playing DeSoto Central in eight hours.’ Realistically, it’s six days a week in the spring going pretty hard for a two-, two-and-a-half month period.

“It’s tough. Obviously most of us are really passionate about what we do. You’re putting in 50 or 60 hours a week. And we develop relationships with our athletes, their families, our coaching staffs, so we’re missing that camaraderie. Those are the people we serve on a daily basis so you’re kind of missing a part of your family. You can’t believe how hard those kids have worked and those coaches have worked getting ready for spring sports, the kids who have fought through injury to be ready to play. The seniors I’ve had four years now. 

“Everything just kind of disappeared overnight.”


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As a result, the athletic trainers have rolled with the punches, which, fortunately, is something they’re used to doing.

“Bottom line, the trainer is a jack of all trades,” said Marty Scruggs, director of Sports Medicine Outreach at OrthoSouth. “Whether it’s secondary school, college, pro, you have to adapt. Some schools have two trainers but usually the only time there’s a doctor (at an event) is for high school football. And that’s 10 Friday nights of the year. The other times – the volleyball games, the women’s soccer games –you’ve got to make those calls and be responsible (on your own).”

The athletic trainers have successfully made the pivot, donning protective gear, taking temperatures and asking pertinent questions to anyone visiting OrthoSouth. Scruggs said they’re also performing more conventional functions when needed as well, like helping out in the casting room. 

They’re still also finding ways to help their athletes as well. Katie Perkins, who has worked as St. Agnes’ athletic trainer for seven years, is using video workouts and an app called TeleHab to keep her athletes in the best shape possible.

“I made up programs for our tennis, lacrosse, track and softball teams,” she said. “They can see pictures and videos and verbiage of what to do (in terms of workouts) and when they’re done, they just hit a button (to send their reports). It gives them ownership. Or, they can video themselves and I can give feedback. ‘Hey, you need to go a little deeper in that squat.’”

Like Smith, Perkins would rather be with her athletes. But finding ways to help right now is equally rewarding.

“I think we’re a very versatile health care provider,” she says of her fellow trainers. “It makes us unique. We’re willing to step up and do whatever’s needed.”

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Topics

High School Sports athletic trainer OrthoSouth
John Varlas

John Varlas

John Varlas is a lifelong Memphian who has covered high school sports in various capacities for over 20 years.


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