UPMC Cole's athletic trainers

The athletic training team in UPMC Cole’s rehabilitation services. From left are Chrissy Tingley, rehab manager, Alisa Cornell, Bradford athletic trainer, Melissa O’Brien, Smethport athletic trainer, Dylan Plume, Galeton athletic trainer, Sam Delcamp, Coudersport, athletic trainer. Bri Gleason, Otto-Eldred athletic trainer and Julie Barton, Port Allegany athletic trainer.

COUDERSPORT — UPMC Cole has a rehabilitation service department that houses athletic training, but the concept of athletic training is still somewhat new.

Athletic trainers are licensed medical professionals who work closely with athletes to prevent, assess and treat injuries. The job requires a four-year degree — soon it will be a six year — and continuing education to maintain certification.

Melissa O’Brien is the lead athletic trainer at UPMC Cole, which has had the program since 2003. The program started with Smethport School District and eventually spread. Now, UPMC Cole and its six athletic trainers are contracted to provide athletic trainers at practices and games for six local schools, she said.

Sam Delcamp, athletic trainer at Coudersport Area School District, said the job is more than what many people think.

“On the daily, I think people think we’re just there to tape ankles and hand them a bag of ice, but it’s more than that,” Delcamp said. It’s also about educating the athletes on how to become more knowledgeable and aware of their bodies, she said.

Chrissy Tingley, rehabilitation manager at UPMC Cole, said having an athletic trainer present at games and practices allows the coaches to coach.

With an athletic trainer on the field, coaches can focus on the plays and the dynamics of the team while the athletic trainer is able to watch for injuries. The athletic trainer will know if an athlete got up from a fall too slowly or if someone requires medical attention. Plus, not all coaches are medically trained.

Beyond the physical part of the job, athletic trainers develop relationships with the student athletes — and their parents — and can increase the communication between the two. Delcamp works closely with Champion Orthopedics and local pediatricians. She can suggest further treatment and explain to parents what happened and why it’s important to assess an injury in a certain way. While a sprained ankle may not seem like a big deal now, it could lead to arthritis later.

As more and more research comes out on concussions, public awareness also increases. Coaches and athletes realize that a concussion will impact more than the student’s athletic abilities; it will impact their classroom work and everyday life. The athletic trainer can work with the school’s guidance counselor and nurse to develop a treatment plan. If the concussion happens on a Friday night, the athletic trainer can explain to the parents what symptoms to watch for over the weekend.

Trust between an athlete and the athletic trainer is important so the athlete is more likely to go to the athletic training when something is wrong.

Throughout the football season in the Coudersport School District, the coach reported more injuries to Delcamp in August, but that changed in September and October when the athletes began to self report more.

“It was very interesting because these athletes, who are still very young, are becoming self aware. They’re understanding when something isn’t correct in their body … and they feel comfortable telling Sam they think something is wrong,” Tingley said. “In the long run, this can prevent larger injuries.”

Some schools still don’t have athletic trainers, O’Brien said. Delcamp said in some rural communities, it’s still new.

“They need to see that benefit of having one versus thinking it’s a luxury. I think it comes back to the education factor,” Delcamp said.

Having a licensed medical professional who is not a coach at the games and practices to evaluate injuries is helpful, too. Tingley said the coaches are responsive to the athletic trainers and they trust their opinions. If the star player is injured and needs to be taken out of the game, the coaches aren’t happy, but understand the athletic trainer is doing what is best.

For more information about UPMC Cole’s athletic training services, call Tingley at 814-274-5300 or email tingleycm@upmc.edu.