Silent heroes work behind the scenes of Liberty Hill Panther athletics

By JOSEPH GARCIA

and KATE LUDLOW

Student Trainer Joseph Terbay, a junior at Liberty Hill High School, assists a student athlete this week. The training program has 23 students who assist Athletic Trainers Charles “Doc” Harrington Sarah Baulch. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

No matter what athletic event it is, they are there waiting in the wings, sideline or bench hoping the competition is played with all participants coming out unscathed.

But in the event someone does require medical attention, they are there on the spot ready to take action – even if the wounded is not a Liberty Hill Panther.

Assistant Athletic Director and Athletic Trainer Charles “Doc” Harrington along with Athletic Trainer Sarah Baulch are in charge of administering on-site medical treatment  for athletes in need. Whether it is a football game, volleyball match or the state track and field meet, one of these two are on hand to help.

They may not get much recognition, but athletes, coaches and parents count on them game in and game out. Behind the scenes, the athletic trainers are selflessly making a big difference in Liberty Hill’s athletic programs.

Harrington, in his 11th year of service at LHHS, has 26 years of training experience that includes working at the University of Texas El Paso – his alma mater – as well as Abilene Christian University, Odessa Permian High School and Midland Lee High School.

At the age of 13, he knew that he wanted to be an athletic trainer and at LHHS he wears many hats that include equipment managing duties.

Meanwhile, Baulch has served LHISD for five years and works at both the Junior High and High School. She graduated from Abilene Christian University with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Science and has her teaching certificate on top of that.

The Harrington-Baulch connection goes back to their days in Odessa when she was a student for him.

“I’ve known him (Harrington) since I was 15,” said Baulch. “He is easy to work with, he always teaches me and we feed off each other when we are taking care of the kids.”

Harrington said the addition of Baulch to his staff has impacted LHISD in many positive ways.

“I had asked for two or three years for help before we got Sarah (Baulch),” said Harrington. “Finally we got to hiring. She starts every morning at the junior high so she is there from about 6:15 a.m. to about 9:15 a.m. So she sees kids before their day starts and stays through the first period.

“I feel like her job almost pays for itself because those kids are working out every day. (For the longest time) what would happen to a (student who was hurt) is they would just go home. (Now), we’ll keep them in school. If they can stay in school and we can see them again after, that’s way better than them going home and getting nothing. We take care of probably 80 percent of injuries in house because we are able to,” he said.

With students staying in school longer due to on-site treatment, the school district receives money for that day the student remains in school.

“They have to be there for second period for accounting purposes,” Harrington said. “If a kid goes home after first period (the district does not get credit) and there is no money to educate that child that day, so that’s payback quite a bit there.”

Baulch heads the rehabbing of most all the student athletes, freeing up Harrington to be available to other teams and athletes. She does 85-90 percent of all longterm rehabs.

“She loves to do rehab and that frees me up to go out to practice every day,” Harrington said.

Baulch enjoys the rehab process and may someday become a physical therapist. But for now she loves working closely with and comforting students in their time of need.

“I enjoy the rehab process because it allows me to really work with them and get to know the kids and so when they are back out on the court or field it is so much fun to see,” Baulch said. “When you pour everything into getting them back it’s just awesome to see them succeed.”

In addition to Harrington and Baulch, LHHS has a student trainer program that has boomed to 23 participants this year, up from 18 last year.

Student trainers assist Harrington and Baulch with everything from treatments to caring for equipment and making things run smoother, especially during football season. They are a significant part of the Liberty Hill team and are recognized as such by Harrington.

“They are not going to score the touchdown on Friday night, their picture is not going to be in the paper, but they are a part of it,” Harrington said. “You hope kids find their niche. When I got here we had five (student trainers). Now we have 23 and we have educational classes for them. By all means we do stuff every day that nobody else wants to do, but it has to get done. They tape ankles, they assist us when we do treatments, wound care, fixing a helmet, shoulder pads or swapping out the laundry…they do a little bit of everything.”

Baulch works closely with the student trainers as well.

“We’ve kind of headed up that program and built it up,” Baulch said. “I get to bring them in, encourage them and teach them all along the way. It’s the most we’ve ever had. It’s cool, it’s fun.”

Harrington said the hands-on approach is the best way to learn the profession and the student trainers get the most out of the situation. But it’s not all work and no play. While the athletes and coaches are busy, they like to have a little fun of their own.

“We have our own fun,” he said. “We have times where it’s just us and athletes are doing something else, so that’s our time and we have a lot of fun. It’s more of a family.”

Junior Joseph Terbay is one of those trainers who likes to be part of the team camaraderie.

“I had knee surgery, I blew out my knee in PAC, going into my freshman year,” Terbay said. “Doc suggested that I become a trainer, so I could still be a part of the team.”

Terbay has been a trainer for three years, and serves as the “small assistant” to Doc.

“I help on the sidelines, do equipment repairs, issue jerseys and pants. We’re the ‘Football Fairies,’” said Terbay.

He assists on the field with injuries as well.

“When there is an injury, Doc, Mrs. B (Sarah Baulch), and I all head to the field. I stand back with my pack, and help get supplies,” he said.

The packs are small backpacks, filled with essential items the kids wear while they are on the sidelines. Losing a pack results in pushups, which student trainer Justin Johnson, a freshman, was going to have to do after misplacing his. Though he found it in Mrs. Baulch’s office, he had earned the pushups during the afternoon class. It helps the trainers take their jobs and equipment seriously, while keeping the relaxed nature of the Athletic Training Room intact.

Johnson comes from a family with sports medicine history. His mother and sister are both trainers and he enjoys following in their footsteps.

“I’m a middle man,” says Johnson. “I work with quite a bit of equipment and quite a bit of medical. My mom is a trainer, and my sister is a trainer for East Texas Baptist University. My cousin is also a trainer in Leander. It’s something that I just always wanted to do.”

Johnson says the trainers often work three to four hours per day.

“I get here in the mornings around 7 a.m. Wednesday is my day off, but I usually come in and work still,” he said. “We’ll generally stay until 7 or 8 p.m., not counting Fridays.”

Aiming to become a medical professional after high school, junior Heather Shaffer is gaining valuable experience as a student trainer that she can use in her future. She wants to go into nursing, particularly in the neo-natal area.

“This is my first year working with the football team,” said Shaffer who also competes in the pole vault. “I was in the training room with Mrs. B (Sarah Baulch) a lot, and it looked interesting. We’re really close, and she suggested I get into this. During our training periods, we do laundry, learn to tape, and learn about sports medicine. We have a textbook, and we also do slideshows.”

The trainers surely learn plenty about many different facets of not only the medical world, but equipment, which is directly related to players’ safety and health. Harrington is in charge of all the equipment, including purchasing, servicing and inventory, so the student trainers are exposed to that aspect as well.

“My kids in essence get a part of that,” he said. “We take care of it all.”

Equipment, especially for football, is important and Harrington said he details all helmets and shoulder pads each week. There is a process by which he goes by to distribute equipment throughout the high school.

“We are always looking to buy a newer model and we probably add a dozen to 18 new helmets and shoulder pads every year,” Harrington explained. “The first thing we buy before we buy anything every year is we look at our helmets and shoulder pads. Those are our two most important pieces of equipment that we have.

“What happens with the helmets is they get sent in every two years for reconditioning. So we spend money on those helmets every other year,” he said. “The ones that don’t go, we go through them and recondition them ourselves. We go through and look for any defective parts, we look for things that need to be changed or replaced or cleaned up and we do that on a weekly basis, too. So we spend of a lot of time on that and student trainers help.”

The varsity team does indeed play with the newer equipment, but that does not mean it is safer than the ones the freshmen team wears. Harrington likens the situation to a domestic one of seniority.

“It’s newer, it’s not necessarily better,” he said. “It’s like when you have kids at home, the oldest one is going to get the better of the cars and it’s a hand-me-down type deal. I feel good about all of our equipment. Most of our equipment you can’t tell the difference between the varsity and the JV.

“Obviously we are always looking to improve our equipment, but you can’t buy for a whole team in one year. One it’s not fiscally responsible and two it’s not fiscally possible. We try to be good stewards of the school district money. So we buy what we need and buy good quality. We buy things that will last and part of that is taking good care of them. If they are not in good shape we just start making a pile and get rid of them,” Harrington added.

The most common type of injury trainers see is that to an athlete’s ankles. But one of the biggest concerns, especially in football, are concussions, which Harrington said are fairly sporadic. He also said the coaching staff teaches the kids to play safely.

“I think (concussions) just come in runs,” he said. “There is no group of kids that is exactly the same as the group before or after. You don’t want to use your head as a weapon. There is a safe way to play the game and I think we do a great job of coaching that.”

State law has mandated a process for all Texas schools to follow when it comes to concussions. One of the significant changes for the 2012-2013 season is that every coach and trainer is required to complete a UIL approved two-hour course on concussions, including evaluation, prevention, symptoms, risks and longterm effects.

In September, the LHISD school board voted to approve a Concussion Oversight team consisting of Harrington, Baulch and team physician, Dr. Paul Berg.

One of the team’s functions is to establish a return-to-play protocol based on peer reviewed scientific evidence, so that a student may return to the playing field or court.

“We have a protocol mandated by the state legislature,” Harrington explained. “If a kid has a concussion then obviously there is a lot of observation initially. You follow the same guidelines, but every kid is different. There is a whole gamut of things that we look at, not just the headache, dizziness, loud noises and bright lights. When they become symptom free at that point by law they have to see a physician. We send them in and send our form with them that shows the doctor what we are going to do. We do a scoring sheet and when they are all zeros then they can see the doctor.”

On the first day an athlete is symptom free, he or she must see a medical doctor in order to move along in the process. Football athletes must go a week before they can practice or play with full contact, which is nothing new for Harrington.

“Symptom free is day one, which is one more day of rest when they see the doctor, then day two we start conditioning until day five when they get to practice in a helmet, shoulder pads and shorts but with no contact. Day six they go through a full-contact practice,” Harrington said. “Then day seven they are able to play in a game. So it’s safe guarded, but it really didn’t change what we’ve been doing here. I’ve been doing it that was since the early 90s.”

It’s only happened a couple of times, according to Harrington, but if a student athlete cannot function in school, the proper authorities are notified and the case is handled from there.

“It just depends, if it’s pretty severe and they are having trouble then yes,” he said. “If they are truly having trouble in class then we will talk to the teachers and counselor. But we’ve only had a couple of those.”

With all that is involved in being an athletic trainer, they not only are responsible for the kids in their school district, but often times for the opposing teams as well.

For example, this Friday when the volleyball and football teams travel to Llano to play, Baulch will travel with the volleyball team because Llano only has one trainer and they will be at the football game.

“That person is going to be at football and so (Llano’s) volleyball goes uncovered,” Harrington said. “I didn’t like that (situation) when I first came here because I can’t be in two places at once. But, (Baulch) will take care of both teams at that game then she will come over to the stadium and ride home with us.”

While it’s not a 9-5 gig by any means, Harrington and Baulch would not have it any other way as both receive satisfaction knowing they assisted a student in the journey back to health and activity.

Harrington said a thank you goes a long way with him and the favorite part of his job is seeing a player run back onto the field after his assistance.

“Seeing a kid come back (is my favorite part) because they are at the age where everything is so dramatic,” he said. “If they don’t get to play on Friday night then it’s just the worst thing that they could imagine. To get those kids back and playing; that’s it. A thank you is like money.”

Much like the reason she likes physical therapy so much, Baulch said it is the associations she has made and continues to make that is so rewarding for her. She enjoys the reassurance an athlete feels when she cares for them.

“The connection I get to make with the kids (is the favorite part of my job).” she said. “Working with them so when unfortunately something bad happens they know I’m there for them and know I’m going to be with them and trust that I am going to help take care of them.”