Chris Carruth and Brandon Moody

Monroe Area athletic trainer Chris Carruth, right, walks off the field with Brandon Moody after Moody was injured on a play during the Hurricanes’ game against Apalachee in 2019.

Any athlete will admit, injuries are a part of sports. John Hopkins University estimates that of the nearly 30 million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports each year, more than 3.5 million will sustain some sort of injury.

So, what can be done to keep athletes performing at their very best or returning to their best after an injury? That’s where certified athletic trainers come into play.

Atlanta Rehabilitation and Performance Center, located in Loganville in the Kroger shopping center, is the sports rehabilitation clinic responsible for providing athletic trainers to many of the high schools in Walton County including Loganville, Monroe Area and Loganville Christian Academy.

“Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, examination, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of emergent, acute or chronic injuries and medical conditions,” Monroe Area athletic trainer Chris Carruth said. “We are at the high school to ensure that the athletes are cared for. Through our commitment to the athletes, we develop relationships with the entire school community which allows us to help others.

Through Atlanta Rehab’s athletic trainer program, each participating school is provided with its own athletic trainer who covers every sport. 

“Athletic trainers with Atlanta Rehab will spend a few days a week in the clinic during the morning hours whether in the clinic or next door assisting our team physicians (Atlanta Bone and Joint Specialists),” Carruth said. “By being in the clinic, it enhances our relationship with the physical therapists who will be tending to our athlete, as well as assist in the rehabilitation of all patients that walk through the door. We are a phone call away for the school, and that takes priority; but it’s important to keep our clinical skills up-to-date.”

While at each school, the athletic trainers are responsible for coverage of all home sporting events and practices. Spring happens to be the busiest time for athletic trainers with an average of five sports to cover at each school.

“We cover practice, get kids ready for practice be it by taping, stretching and evaluating injuries that may have occurred,” Walnut Grove athletic trainer Megan Mercer said. “We’re at each school by ourselves so we get to take in a little bit of each sport in.”

With only one athletic trainer at each school, prioritizing which sports get covered can be an issue, but it’s an issue they are able to manage.

“Obviously, most people know us from our time spent with the football team, both at home and on the road,” Carruth said. “Unfortunately, we cannot do that for every sport with there being one athletic trainer at each school, so we focus on all home events and when a team makes the playoffs, we will be right by their side to the end. If a coach or athletic director approaches us about traveling for a particular game, we do what we can to try and make it work.”

If an injury on the field does occur, each school’s athletic trainer is able to evaluate an athlete on the field and determine the severity of the injury.

“We are the first responders at the schools. The big role of the AT is the evaluation of injuries,” Carruth said. “Once evaluated, the AT will make the decision whether the athlete can go back into competition or if triaging is needed and have the athlete go see our team physician for further evaluation. ATs will then play a huge role in the communication between the athlete, parent, team physician, coaches, and whomever else might be a part of the evaluation/rehabilitation process.”

Mercer agreed with Carruth on evaluation being one of the most important part of the trainers’ job.

“I’d say a lot of what we deal with, at least at the high school level, is can an athlete go back to play,” Mercer said. “is there something we can do right now to get the athlete back on the field or do we need to call parents to come get them or do we need to send them straight to an urgent care or emergency room. It helps ease the parents mind instead of the athlete saying ‘Oh I think I sprained my ankle.’”

When it comes to treating a severe injury, Carruth, Mercer and other athletic trainers communicate with doctors and orthopedist to help coaches know when a player will be back on the field.

“We have a great relationship with Dr. Maurice Jove, Dr. Nathan Jove and Dr. Jeff Traub with Atlanta Bone and Joint Specialists for now over 10 years,” Carruth said.

But injury prevention is just as important as evaluation and treatment. Many times, injuries can be prevented by proper care before and after games or practice.

“Injury prevention is another component we take pride in,” Carruth said. “Whether it may be the jumping mechanics of an individual, issue with someone’s stride, or excessive compensation to name a few, we are looking for ways to fix the issue to prevent a potential injury from occurring.”

Despite the demanding nature of their job, Carruth and his colleagues find satisfaction is seeing athletes they’ve treated get back on the field of play.

“Seeing your kids get back on the field is huge,” Carruth said. “If we don’t have to do anything, it may be boring for us, but it’s exciting at the same time because it shows our kids are healthy and that’s what our goal as athletics trainers is, it’s to see those kids out on the field doing what they love.”

Brett Fowler is the sports editor of The Walton Tribune. He is a 2016 graduate of the University of North Georgia and a 2010 graduate of Monroe Area High School. Brett has been covering Walton County sports since 2011.