High school sports: Athletic trainers adjust to “infection control specialists” role as coronavirus pandemic continues

By Michael Beaven  Akron Beacon Journal

Posted Jun 13, 2020 at 5:33 PM - Updated Jun 13, 2020 at 6:11 PM

Athletes and coaches are still getting acclimated to the return of workouts on high school grounds amid the conronavirus pandemic.

So are athletic trainers after high school sports came to a halt in March.

Dr. Joe Congeni, the director of Sports Medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital, said this past week that sports medicine professionals have evolved from dealing with shoulder, knee and ankle injuries to concussions and now an “unusual infection.”

COVID-19 has proven to be deadly around the world, and a lot of unknowns remain as data continues to be analyzed and researched.

Since June 1 in Ohio, athletes have been allowed to exercise at their high school under the supervision of coaches and certified athletic trainers.

“Our trainers are really key in a role that is called infection control specialists,” said Congeni, the Archbishop Hoban athletics doctor.

Congeni also consults with doctors and trainers that are affiliated with area schools through an Akron Children’s Hospital contract.

About 30 schools in Northeast Ohio have an athletic trainer through Children’s, including Buchtel, East, Ellet, Field, Firestone, Highland, Hoban, Hudson, Kenmore-Garfield, Mogadore, North, Our Lady of the Elms, Rootstown, Springfield, St. Vincent-St. Mary and Woodridge. Copley and Cuyahoga Falls also receive trainer assistance from Children’s.

Schools started Phase I earlier this month where there is no shared equipment by athletes. Some schools are set to start Phase II on Monday, which, for example, will allow the passing of a football, a basketball or a soccer ball among teammates.

Welcome back

Athletic trainer Melanie Bittecuffer said fall athletes at Hudson bring their own water, and are being responsible and following protocols with their coaches.

“These past couple of weeks, I have spent working alongside the athletic director, the maintenance staff and the janitorial staff at the high school to make sure that we have everything in order as far as sanitation and cleaning processes,” Bittecuffer said.

Bittecuffer is in her 14th year as an athletic trainer at Hudson following four years at Stow. She and Explorers coaches wear masks, and follow the social distancing guidelines by spreading athletes out on the field at least six feet apart in groups of 10 (nine athletes and one coach).

“Our buildings are closed,” Bittecuffer said. “The kids are not allowed in the locker rooms, bathrooms, weight room, or gym. ... All of the coaches have to keep a log and a sign-in of each athlete. They have infrared thermometers that they put close to a kid’s forehead and they get a temperature. They track it and away they go.”

Athletes are also asked a series of questions, including: Do you have a cough, sore throat or fever? Have you been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 over the past week? Have you been living with anybody that has been diagnosed with COVID-19? Do you have a loss of taste or smell?

A safe return

Hoban opened its weight room and stadium for its fall athletes.

Hoban athletic trainer Steve Lutz said he wears a mask over 90 percent of the time at the school, and the only time he takes it off is to get a drink of water.

“We are asking questions, taking temperatures and recording everything to make sure we are crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s to safely open back up and make sure that the kids are all safe and accounted for and getting everything that they need to begin working out,” Lutz said.

Lutz is in his third year as an athletic trainer at Hoban following seven years at Mogadore. He said he has done 99 percent of the temperature checks the past two weeks when athletes enter the school grounds Monday through Thursday.

“I have talked to my dad [Stephen Lutz], who is the athletic director at Mogadore, and they are doing most of their stuff outside with their fall sports, with the exception of volleyball,” Lutz said.

Hoban is able to properly social distance its athletes inside its 11,000 square foot weight room.

“We are around 30ish kids per group and then we have the strength coaches, and the overlook where a coach from a sports team can come in and watch,” Lutz said. “We can space the kids out properly.

″... After every set, the kids are cleaning weights. We have Purell stations all over the place in the weight room. The maintenance staff cleans each night, and then on Fridays and the weekend there is a deep clean to make sure everything is sanitized.”

Highland High School is also busy with a flurry of social distancing activity as athletes are exercising Monday through Friday.

“We are using pretty much everything,” Highland athletic trainer Mike Johnson said. “Our facilities, thankfully, are designed as such that we can use all of them without any congregation. We can have kids in the weight room and at the same time we can have kids in the auxiliary gym and the main gym, and out on the fields.

″... We are asking the kids to take their temperatures at home and self report when they come in; then we have the COVID screening questions.”

Johnson and all of the coaches are wearing masks.

“Kids are encouraged to wear masks when they are not exercising,” Johnson said.

Johnson said equipment is regularly cleaned by athletes and coaches, and the maintenance staff does a “deep clean” in the afternoon and evening each day.

Maintain social distance

Athletic trainer Josh Darling said football players are lifting weights and conditioning on the field at Ellet.

“Everyone is at least six feet apart for social distancing and we don’t have spotters currently,” Darling said. “It is more lower weights and higher reps to get back to the routine.”

Darling said all Akron Public Schools student-athletes are “responsible for taking their temperatures before coming into their school.”

Then the COVID-19 questions come at school where the trainers, coaches and athletes wear masks.

Kenmore-Garfield football players are also back in the weight room.

“They have four stations set up throughout the school, and they rotate depending on how many players come that day,” K-G athletic trainer Amelia Suglio said. “It is different than last year.”

Athletic trainer John Bruketa said North is having “voluntary workouts with staggered start times with the football and basketball players.”

Fall athletes are conditioning at Firestone along with basketball players, swimmers and wrestlers Monday through Friday. Everyone is expected to bring their own water.

“We are using the track and practice field outside, and then indoors we are using the weight room, main gym, auxiliary gym and swimming pool,” Firestone athletic trainer Kyle Harper said. ”... The students are expected to wear masks when they are not involved in vigorous activity.”

Ariel Allman Named River States Conference Athletic Trainer of the Year

WED, JUN 10, 2020 - [RSC NEWS]

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- Midway (Ky.) University's Ariel Allman has been chosen as the 2019-20 River States Conference Athletic Trainer of the Year. The award was established in 2016--17 to recognize outstanding service by athletic trainers within the conference. Allman, in her third year with the Eagles, was chosen after a vote from RSC athletic trainers and athletic directors around the league.

"Ariel is extremely deserving of this award," said Rusty Kennedy, Midway University Vice President of Admissions & Student Affairs. "She has managed the Athletic Training staff during our time of unprecedented growth and kept the standard of care at a high level. She does a tremendous job taking care of our student-athletes, and she genuinely cares about their well-being. I am sure our 500-plus student-athletes and athletic department staff join me in congratulating her on this honor!"

Allman came to Midway in 2017. She has been working in athletic training within the RSC since 2015 when she was a graduate assistant at fellow RSC member Asbury (Ky.) University for two years. A 2015 graduate of University of South Florida, she worked with the Bulls' athletic training department while earning her undergraduate degree. Allman went on to earn her master's degree in athletic training from University of Kentucky in 2017.

Allman's arrival at Midway coincided with great growth for the Eagles' athletic department. Midway athletics has increased its sports sponsorships to 24 varsity teams in 2020. That included adding men's sports for the first time in 2016-17.

In her nomination for the award, Allman was credited with maintianing a high level of care and service despite the rapid growth. Also a part of her award nomination was a great practical knowledge of athletic training, organizational abilities, genuine care for student-athletes, a great attitude and a willingness to go above and beyond in any situation.


2019-20 -- Ariel Allman, Midway (Ky.) University

2018-19 -- Andrew Bolt, Asbury (Ky.) University

2017-18 -- Tara Gerlach, University of Rio Grande (Ohio)

2016-17 -- Tara Gerlach, University of Rio Grande (Ohio)