Calvin Wetzel and Brad Sparks
Sports and Assistant Sports Editors
Behind every win, every pass, every goal, every home run and every championship in the Wheaton College athletic program is one common thread — one engine that keeps each team running like a well-oiled machine. The players dazzle fans with their dunks and juke moves and the coaches partake in the glory for the victories, but behind the scenes athletic trainers contribute to victories as well.
Each of Wheaton’s four employed athletic trainers — Head Athletic Trainer Greg Evans and Assistant Athletic Trainers Tricia Deter, Tonya Baker and Mark Demchak — are responsible for different sports. Evans analogizes this to “man-to-man coverage” and says that the athletic trainers sometimes work with athletes outside of their assigned sport, which he calls “zone coverage.”
The athletic training staff also includes student assistants, and anywhere from 10 to 12 are employed each year. These student assistants perform the tasks that do not require certification, thus freeing up time for the athletic trainers to attend to the athletes.
Before the fans arrive to a game, a match or a meet, the athletic trainers are working hard to prepare the players for the competition ahead of them. From taping an athlete’s ankles to stretching out an athlete’s legs, they are there to ensure that the players are physically ready to go. But the athletic trainers’ work does not end when the game begins.
During every game there is an athletic trainer on hand to handle in-game injuries and cramps. Each athletic trainer attends every game for the sports that he or she covers. The athletic trainers are also available after each game to treat any injuries sustained by the athletes and to untape anything that had been taped prior to the game.
In addition to these gameday duties, the athletic trainers perform a wide range of everyday duties. According to Evans, a typical day without a game for an athletic trainer starts by doing administrative work in the early morning.
This can involve anything from insurance processing to doctor referrals. The hours between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. are mostly spent doing rehab for injured players. After that, the athletic trainers start preparing the players for practice, and their work day ends around 7 p.m.
Teams can’t win without their best players, and the athletic trainers are the ones who keep the players on the field or on the court.
“I wouldn’t have played in half of the games I’ve played in if it wasn’t for Trish (Deter),” junior soccer player Nathan Jasperse said.
“Mark has been huge in helping me get back on the court, and playing more comfortably this second half of season,” senior basketball player Nate Serenius said. “Mark has been real strategic every day in making sure I do what I need to be ready to play.”
Senior track and field athlete and volleyball player Hannah Velling said that Baker’s in-game work plays an important role in the success of the volleyball team.
“Just a tape job in the middle of a game (helps),” Velling said. “Even (Baker’s) moral support is really helpful.”
While the athletic trainers are not the ones who get the recognition when their teams do well, the performance of the teams would undoubtedly suffer without them. Evans says that not only would the players’ injuries last longer without the athletic trainers, but the coaches’ jobs would become much tougher as well.
“Our coaches would be hampered down in their ability to coach because they would have to take care of whatever sports medicine issues would arise and wouldn’t be able to focus on what they need to do to coach,” he said.
Deter knows firsthand how a lack of athletic trainers can hinder athletes. Her high school didn’t have an athletic trainer, so Deter and her friends and teammates were forced to rehab their injuries on their own without the expert opinion of someone certified in the field.
“I saw my friends having to rehab on their own. I even saw one of my friends rehabbing with Mountain Dew cases, and that was for an ACL (injury),” Deter said.
A big factor in why the athletic trainers are able to keep the athletes in playing form is the trust that the athletes have placed in them. The players know that the athletic trainers will do what is best for their health.
“I feel very confident in (the athletic trainers’) ability to tell me what’s wrong,” Velling said. “I would probably trust them more than I would trust a doctor.”
This trust leads to deep relationships formed between the athletic trainers and the players. The training room is a place for student-athletes to go unwind and have someone to talk to. Evans says his favorite part of his job is the interactions with the players and coaches.
“They can come in and be real with us and tell us what they’re feeling and thinking,” he said.
According to Wheaton’s athletics website, the athletic trainers’ mission is “simply to provide the very best medical care to (their) student-athletes,” but their care goes beyond medical treatment.
Deter said that she knows the students as “much more than just athletes” and that there are also spiritual and mental components to her relationships with the players. The relationship is not just professional; many of the players and athletic trainers have developed close friendships as well.
“Like a lot of athletes here, I’ve become good friends with Mark this year,” Serenius said.
Velling, who was diagnosed with vertigo last year, said that Baker started attending informational meetings and reading articles about vertigo in order to better understand what she could do to best help Velling. The caring disposition of the athletic trainers fosters a place of community where the players can talk to people they trust.
“I can go in there and feel very comfortable,” Velling said. “It’s definitely a social arena.”
Jasperse said, “You walk into the training room, and all the athletes love just hanging out with the trainers. They’re always in there. I mean, we’re friends; it’s more of a personal connection than just taking care of my injuries. It’s like you get to know somebody and you spend a lot of time with them and they know you personally and they know how you react to certain things. It’s more of a personal relationship.”
The players appreciate the work that the athletic trainers do for them, and they show their appreciation by giving back. During the annual men’s soccer banquet on Saturday, Feb. 9, the members of the team presented Deter with a book that they had all put together containing thank-you notes and letters of appreciation for her work with the team.
As much as the athletic trainers care for their players and connect with them personally, they are medically qualified to perform the tasks at hand. Baker has worked for the Kane County Eagles Semi-Pro football team, while Evans’ resume includes work with the winter and summer ESPN X-Games, the USA baseball team and Athletes in Action Sports Performance.
Wheaton’s athletic training staff treats injuries, builds relationships and accomplishes everything in between. The trophies and medals may be awarded to the coaches and players, but the excellence of Wheaton Thunder athletics begins with the athletic trainers.
Photo and Banner Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the February 15, 2013 issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.