Panther athletic trainers working hard on and off the field

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Liberty Hill’s Head Athletic Trainer Melissa Harrington provides treatment to an injured Panther football player. Harrington said the student trainers act as her “eyes and ears” during hectic Panther sporting events. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By LANCE CATCHINGS

On Friday nights during Liberty Hill football games, you’ll see the band in the stands and the players and coaches on the field, but something you may overlook are the many student athletic trainers hard at work on the sidelines. The student athletic trainers are at every practice, every game, for every sport that Liberty Hill offers in some capacity.

First-year Head Athletic Trainer Melissa Harrington said these dedicated students are important to the success of Liberty Hill athletics, and it starts with a small step from each of them.

“It starts as a volunteer basis,” Harrington said. “We have an application, and based on what they put on their application, we bring them in. We have 18 trainers at the high school level and we have 18 at the junior high school. These kids just want to work and want to be a part of something, and they definitely have servants’ hearts. They couldn’t do the jobs we ask them to do without that type of attitude in them.”

Every day is a little different for a student trainer. They handle a multitude of tasks, but there is always more to be done. While Harrington and her fellow Athletic Trainer Sabrina Queen are preoccupied, the students play a crucial role.

“Oftentimes, they are my eyes and ears,” Harrington said of her student trainers. “It’s great to have those extra eyes and ears to know if a player is hurt, so we can take care of kids appropriately. They do a host of things from setting up the field for practice to helping set up the game field. They have a huge range of jobs that we need them to do.”

Harrington said that in her program, students learn the skills she believes will help them be successful in pursuit of whatever their personal goals may be.

“The experience they get in the program they can carry with them is how to be on time, how to be respectful and how to be responsible,” Harrington said. “If you can master those three things, I think you can do anything in life. Those things in our program help make them young professional individuals. We have kids that want to work and want to win, and that’s refreshing.”

Sophomore Mikayla Friemel is a second-year trainer, and her interest in sports medicine is what got her involved.

“I have always been interested in being around sports, especially with the medical field,” Friemel said. “I play sports, and it’s interesting to see the other side of it when people go through injuries. I signed up for it in eighth grade, so I started my freshman year at two-a-day practices, and I’ve been non-stop ever since.”

Friemel’s favorite part about the program is working under the stadium lights on Friday nights. She has enjoyed her time working on the Panthers’ athletic training staff so much, in fact, that she plans to continue doing so at the collegiate level.

“Friday night football games are very special to me,” she said. “We are at the practices for such long hours every day that it’s kind of our time to show what we can do, as well as the football players. We have to be effective and work as a team for everything to run smoothly. Dedication is a big part of it, because we put in a lot of hours, but it all pays off in the end. Since I have done it, I have discovered more and more things that I love about it. I definitely want to pursue athletic training after high school. I want to attend Texas A&M University in College Station and continue doing this.”

Handling a multitude of tasks throughout any given game night has become second nature to the sophomore, who has leaned on her fellow trainers for support.

“People don’t always see us but we are there,” Friemel said. “We set up the field, do taping, handle water and a lot of other things, as well. You have to want to do it and have the tolerance to do it. I think it’s special that we get to help in a way to help the injured players to get back on the field. Spending so much time with fellow trainers, it’s like you become a family, and that is Coach (Jeff) Walker’s motto for our school.”

Junior Jacqui Perry is also a second-year trainer, and she has similar plans to continue athletic training in the future, despite experiencing some struggles through her first year as a trainer.

“I want to follow in Mrs. Harrington’s footsteps and become an athletic trainer,” Perry said. “She sets so many good examples, and being an athletic trainer like her is what I plan to do. It always feels more like a family than a school activity to me. My first year was really stressful, but once you get the hang of it just becomes easy. You have to want to do the work, though. When you become a trainer, you learn the sport and you build close bonds with people you may have never even talked to.”

The training staff could be finished with football any given week, as the Panthers are about to begin their playoff run. With one loss, the training staff must be ready to switch from football to basketball. For them, it’s just business as usual.

Lance@LHIndependent.com

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