A move toward safe play
During the fourth quarter of a Sept. 15 football game in Madras, a player from Valley Catholic, while trying to make a tackle, was inadvertently struck in the head.
He remained down on the field as trainers from both teams went to check on him.
Initial symptoms didn't immediately reveal he had a concussion, but as people were about to help him to his feet, trainers sensed the injury was more serious. After a nearly 30-minute stoppage of play, EMTs put the boy on a stretcher and an ambulance took him to a nearby hospital.
"They were just getting ready to get that young man up and towards the sideline, when his condition changed, to where an immediate and automatic call for transport came," said Madras Athletic Director Evan Brown.
For all high school sports — not just football — the presence of onsite athletic trainers has become crucial to player safety.
Prior to the 2017 fall season, neither Culver nor Madras High School had employed an athletic trainer, instead relying on their trained coaches to handle player injuries as they happened. But a coach's expertise could only go so far.
As it just so happened, the NFL Foundation launched a program known as the Athletic Trainer Grant, in 2016. The grant awards eligible high schools in Arizona, Illinois Oklahoma and Oregon three-year funds totaling $35,000 to put towards an athletic training program.
Both Culver and Madras applied for and recieved grants from the NFL. With collaboration from Apex Physical Therapy in Madras, and the Center Foundation, which helps provide athletic trainers to Central Oregon high schools, the two schools now have an on-site athletic trainer at most practices and home events, and also has a trainer travel with the football team to away games.
Since the fall sports began four weeks ago, athletic trainer Teddi Reese has spent approximately 30 hours a week between both schools, while athletic trainer Lynn Rigney also works part time in Culver.
Reese, 24, came to Madras after finishing her master's degree at the University of Arkansas last spring. Since she grew up in Brewster, Washington, a small town in the central region of the state, and attended a high school without a trainer, Reese sees the importance of getting on-site athletic trainers to more rural high schools.
"The coaches can focus on coaching and don't have to worry about taping and injuries ... it lets them do their job better because I'm able to help with all that stuff," she said. "I know National Athletic Association (is) trying to get more rural high schools athletic trainers. That's kind of the big push, the big goal for the next few years, so we're kind of at the start of it."
Apex Physical Therapy also made Reese's hiring at Culver and Madras possible by filling out her schedule with a couple shifts at the clinic each week.
For the last 10 years Apex has been operating in Madras, co-owner and lead physical therapist Brock Monger offerred Culver and Madras athletes the opporunity to come in for free injury assessments. As an ATC, Monger also provided on-site training at Madras football games, and occassionally basketball and wrestling events, but he said he could only cover so much as a volunteer, whereas many other schools had employed on-site trainers.
Although unable to cite specific numbers, Brown said Madras was one of the few schools in 4A to not have an athletic trainer. At the 2A level, meanwhile, Little said it is rare to see a trainer present at away contests Culver plays in, outside of football and postseason events.
Before this year, in addition to coaching duties, Little had been tasked with taping all of his players before football games, which could take up to an hour. When news of the NFL grant came out last year, it was a no-brainer for Culver to apply.
"I just saw it as an opportunity to move us forward," Little said of the grant. "I don't see why we can't be running like the 6A schools and have full-time trainers and treat our kids just like every other kid in the state. That's our number one focus, is their safety and well-being."
Brown said Madras is also grateful to have Reese on the sidelines, and believes her presence as a certified trainer is reassuring to parents.
"I think we found the right person, and the right person found us," he said.