Trainers played key role in championship run

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By Lance Catchings

The 2018 State Championship football run was exciting for the players, but it was also a unique opportunity for other members of the Panther football program.

The student athletic training program got to experience the ride of a lifetime that culminated with the State Championship game against La Vega Dec. 21.

Throughout the journey, Head Athletic Trainer Melissa Harrington told the students in her program to enjoy the experience.

“The biggest thing I told my kids in our program was to appreciate this opportunity,” Harrington said. “There are a bunch of student athletic trainers, coaches and players that would love to be where we are. I told them even before we played Carthage that if they had a diary, journal or if they blog to write down this experience.”

The Panthers were one of the most well-conditioned teams in the 2018 playoffs, and some of that credit goes to the athletic trainers.

“Our players weren’t cramping, and that is because we’re doing hydration plans correctly,” Harrington said. “That’s a testament to my kids shoving water in our players faces the whole game and making sure they are doing their job. We know it was the coaches and the players that must do the work on the field, but it’s nice to have a small part in it, and our kids are happy to be that part. They just wanted to be part of a team and part of something special. I think that each of them got to feel that when we walked into AT&T Stadium – that they were a part of something special.”

Part of the experience for the student trainers was getting their own nameplates and working down at field level. The trainers may have felt the loss just as hard as the players when the final time ran off the clock.

“Our kids got nameplates just like the players did,” Harrington said. “The UIL and Cowboy Stadium has a vendor that makes nameplates for all the football players, and our student trainers got those, as well. Their faces were priceless when they realized they were getting one, too. I think that the UIL does a really good job of making sure everyone on the roster gets one. At that moment, our kids realized this wasn’t a normal game. They were upset just as well as our players that the ride was over. We got the silver medal, and that’s an awesome accomplishment, but we wouldn’t get to spend that time as a family that we’ve been spending.”

After the State Championship loss, Harrington and her team’s efforts were far from over.

“When we got back, we still had to clean,” she said. “Just because the players are done and there is not another game, we still have work to do. My seniors Blaine (Richardson) and Jacqui (Perry) decided they wanted to do it the next day, so we spent four hours on Saturday at the facility cleaning. Throughout the season, we usually have five kids come in on Saturday, but I felt like if we made it to the State Championship, I just wanted a day with the seniors. We spent good quality time working beside them, because they have done so much. We had a decent amount of work ahead of us, but it was fun to spend time with them.”

When the work was finally finished, the trainers received a short break before getting right back to work with spring basketball and soccer.

“We wrapped up football season, and then we got about four days off before we started up spring sports,” Harrington said. “We are laughing and having a good time and making the best of it while everyone else is hanging out at home. We are very blessed to be in a community that allows us to take care of their kids. Their parents trust me to take care of them, and that is very humbling and special.”

Senior Jacqui Perry said the State Championship was unlike any game she has experienced before, and she will cherish the memories.

“It was so much fun getting to be down on the field level at AT&T Stadium,” Perry said. “It was such an incredible stadium and to get to spend our last senior game there with our team was special. It was work mode, but also enjoying the fact that we were one of the few teams there. The work part was important, but also enjoying our last game was super important. There were so many people in the stands, but I did not even know that many people would show up. I knew it would be a big game, but seeing how many people came to support the football team was impressive.”

For senior Blaine Richardson, it was a fitting end to a long season of hard work.

“Once there, I went right into work mode and was making sure the jobs got done,” Richardson said. “It was fun getting to be a part of the team. After the game, we got our medals and then pushed everything off the field. We then loaded everything and did some treatments at the field. We then did the rest once we got back to the school. Saturday, we went back to the school and did the rest of the cleaning. Saturday was one of our most laid-back days of just wrapping everything up.”

Richardson said he was thankful for his experiences through athletic training and would recommend the program to anyone who wants to work hard and make great memories.

“It is probably one of the most organized training programs in central Texas and in the state,” he said. “It was a privilege to be a part of this program over the last three years.”

The trainers will now disperse to other sports until next fall, when the 2019 Panther football season kicks off.

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