It probably goes unnoticed by a lot of high school sports fans and parents unless a serious injury occurs. Or make that when any injury occurs during a game.
Within seconds, they are out on the field or gym floor, and sometimes they cause delays that irritate impatient and, maybe, ignorant fans. But thank goodness they are there at football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, track and wrestling events.
They are the county's volunteer athletic trainers, who come from the Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center in Annapolis, Crofton and Severna Park. Hopefully, one day, they will be paid, full-time facultymembers at our county high schools.
Since 1985, certified athletic trainers from this association have been giving their time to county high school athletes. They are there when the youngsters need them.
It all started with the likes of Dr. Marshall Steele III, who is medical director of the Annapolis branch on Forbes Street, roaming the sidelines at Annapolis high school football games.
Dr. Steele had played for late Annapolis football coach Al Laramore and wanted to give something back to his coach and school.
The county has never had, or budgeted, full-time certified trainers, but is very fortunateto have had this group volunteer its services to our county athletesfor the last few years. They currently are covering all 13 county public high schools.
"Dr. Steele saw the need and approached Paul Rusko (the retired county coordinator of physical education) about us helping out," said Robert Simms, executive director of the center.
"We handle everything from weight loss on wrestlers to broken bones, and one of our primary objectives is prevention of injuries. When someone does get hurt, we do everything in our power and experience to make sure they don't get hurt again.
There are five certified trainers who are working our county high schools. Northeast graduate Rick Meeks directs the group, that includes Rob Patterson, Sue Payne, Wendy Norris and Deb Noonan.
In addition, Dr. Thomas Harries, who works out of the Severna Park office, serves as team physician at Severn School.
"We each handle a couple schools," said Patterson, who frequently is seen at practices and games at Broadneck, Chesapeake and Northeast.
"We are there for practices and games starting Aug. 15 through the end of the spring sports schedule. Generally, we spend a couple hours a day at the schools we cover."
Simms is quick to point out that all of their trainers are professionally trained in prevention of injuries and at least have their bachelor's degree in sports medicine. And most have master's degrees as well.
"Our people are more than qualified and are dedicated to their profession," said Simms, a Montgomery County native who spent a few years at Coral Gables High in Florida before returning to this area five years ago.
Simmssays most high schools in Florida have full-time athletic trainers and adds, "It should not be limited to just the pros and colleges."
Del. Michael Busch, who is a Recreation and Parks assistant to the superintendent, has been so impressed with their work and interest in amateur sports that he has gotten them to conduct seminars for countyyouth football and lacrosse coaches.
"Those seminars are something all coaches should attend because of the safe and preventive techniques they teach," said Busch.
"There is no way that all our youth organizations could have full-time athletic trainers, so it's important that coaches learn as much as they can."
Busch was referring toa serious injury that could occur in a youth sports situation, with no one there who knows what to do.
"The youth sports people need to be educated, because more injuries occur in contact sports in practice than in games," said Simms.
"I've seen the worst injuries in practice."
Simms contends that athletes spend 10 to 15 percent of their time competing in games, and the other 85 percent in practice. Hence, the greater risk of injury.
"That's why Mike Busch got us tostart holding one-day seminars for youth football coaches a few years ago. How a kid is handled at the point of injury is vital," said Patterson.
"We talk about prevention, the heat, diet and eating habits and answer the parents' questions. Believe me, parents have a lot of questions. There should be no false sense of security in youth sports."
Despite the generosity and community commitment on the part of the Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center, which also covers the state football playoffs, wrestling tournament and other major events sanctioned by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, they are not free of detractors or impostors.
Simms wants to dispel the misconception that his trainers are "out recruiting patients."
"There is no way that we are doing what we do to recruit patients for our practice and therapists," he said emphatically. "When someone is hurt and needs a doctor, the first question we ask is, 'Who is your family doctor?' If they don't have one, we can recommend one in their area.