Senior staff writer
Roncalli athletic trainer Mike Sahm has seen a lot of changes in the profession during his 23 years of assisting the school’s athletes.
He was originally hired as a teacher and an athletic trainer, but six years ago the school administration was vying for a contract between two hospitals. Sahm, a graduate of Roncalli and Valparaiso University, was retained as athletic trainer through St. Vincent Sports Performance, and Sherri Molinar Manzelli, also a Valparaiso graduate, came on as the school’s first assistant trainer.
“The background of being a teacher and athletic trainer has married very well together,” Sahm said. “In the ’90s that was the model, you had to teach and be a trainer, but it has evolved into the outreach program from hospitals that you see today.”
Sahm is among athletic trainers at Southside schools who are observing March as National Athletic Trainer Month. Among the trends he has seen:
• Athletic trainers are hospital/sports performance outreach programs through a contract between the school and hospital instead of the athletic director being hired directly through the high school.
• Working with college interns who are majoring in athletic training.
• Educating student-athletes in injury prevention.
The major hospitals are St. Vincent Sports Performance, Community, Indiana University Health Methodist and Johnson County Memorial.
Athletic trainers basically take care of injury evaluations, basic first aid, post-injury/surgery rehabilitations, return-to-play evaluations and provide physical therapy on site.
“We are fortunate in central Indiana to have an emphasis on athletic trainers,” Sahm said. “But nationwide, the number of athletic trainers has to grow. We’re all about good health care for children and how much we can cut down on days lost in school and days lost in practices. And we help parents save time and money from going to emergency rooms for evaluation. It is cost-effective.”
Because of an athletic trainer’s expertise in body mechanics, coaches have been receptive to preventative training.
“We can sit down with coaches if we see a potential injury trend based on an exercise and its effect on body mechanics,” he said. “We can have a conversation on how to change an exercise program to be preventative to keep the kids on the court or on the field for a longer time.”
Sahm has seen a continued interest in sports medicine; however, the variety of professions has widened.
“More and more of our high school graduates want to follow in our footsteps into athletic training. They want to do what we’re doing and protect the next generation of athletes.”
He and Manzelli, a 26-year athletic trainer who previously served at Carmel and Lawrence North through St. Vincent, are heading into their second busiest time of year – the spring sports season.
“The stretch from August through mid-October is our busiest time due to the volume of athletes that we see,” Sahm said. “You have so many sports and teams compressed into a small schedule frame. But Mother Nature is the real culprit in the spring.”
Sahm has seen a major improvement in communication among trainers, doctors, athletic directors, coaches, parents and athletes over injuries.
“There is more education today about knowing what a student-athlete can play through,” Sahm said. “If there is any potential of a real injury, we are going to make that call before a player goes back out there.”
The emphasis on concussions continues to expand. Due to Sahm, Roncalli was one of the first high schools to go to computer-type pre-season impact testing to establish a baseline.
“Everyone understands more and more how much we need to protect the brains of these students,” Sahm said. “An athlete who has been concussed needs to have modifications made in the classroom, too. We’re all working toward the same goal to not put them back in athletic competition until they are ready.”
A concussed athlete must pass a return-to-play protocol even though they may appear to be symptom-free. They must return to activity slowly with restrictions to prevent setbacks.
Roncalli built a new training room, “The Bubble,” six years ago. It features seven training tables, taping tables, a first aid station, computerized record keeping and a rehabilitation area.
His first training room at the school had a treatment table, a taping table, a file cabinet and a desk. At times, athletes held ice packs in the hallway outside the room due to lack of space.