By Emma Kennedy
The summer season only officially kicked off on Memorial Day weekend, and already the Hardin Memorial Health sports medicine staff has seen concussions, blisters and one tibia and fibula fracture.
Hardin Memorial Health trainer Chad Witzel will spend the summer watching over youth baseball athletes at the Elizabethtown Sports Park as one of the center’s athletic trainers.
This week, teams from all around the region — about 400 teams rotating in and out of Hardin County in a series of four week-long tournaments — will compete at the Elizabethtown Sports Park for the Youth Baseball Nationals.
That means HMH athletic trainers, who are contracted to work with the sports park through the city, are on scene waiting with ice, tape, and other supplies.
Trainer Chad Witzel, who came to HMH a year ago after a stint with Auburn University where he earned a graduate degree, was one of the trainers working Saturday as temperatures reached 90 degrees while kids played in the sun.
For Witzel, it’s a departure from Division I college athletics, where he worked with sports such as rugby and lacrosse for the university, but it’s a change he enjoys.
“With colleges, especially big programs like Division I schools, it’s more of a business aspect whereas here it’s more personal,” he said.
Witzel grew up near Lexington and came back to Kentucky to be closer to family after graduating.
He was an athlete himself, having played high school football and for Eastern Kentucky in his college years.
“That’s what kind of initially got me interested in (sports medicine). My high school athletic trainer was a big influence,” Witzel said. “He kind of helped me get some experience while I was still in high school and from then I was all for it.”
High school athletics is where Witzel said he hits his sweet spot, boasting heated competition without the pressures and business influence of college sports.
But during the summer at the sports park, the HMH trainers can see all age ranges, and while their focus is on the athletes taking the field, oftentimes Witzel and the other trainers will treat spectators, parents or siblings.
On Saturday for example, Witzel said, cooling stations were set up in each quadrant of the park’s baseball section.
There were tents with shade and a cooler with a tarp, sponges and cool water to be used in over-heating cases to cool the core body temperature quickly, he said.
The best outcome in a shift for the trainers is to sit idly by, but it’s hit and miss, sometimes literally, as to whether or not they’ll be busy.
“We’re kind of a jack of all trades. We’re the ones people come to for just about anything,” he said. “Memorial Day, weekend, for example was absolutely nuts. We had multiple fractures and we had a tib-fib fracture right on the first game of the last day, so it was just non-stop action.”
During the summer months when youth tournaments are at the busiest, the job of a sports trainer largely can be about managing parents just as much as the children, Witzel said.
For many of the younger athletes, the injuries they get are the first they’ve ever had and parents can get upset or distressed.
“Sometimes it’s a lot of managing the situation … a lot of it is coming across professionally to assure the parent that you know what you’re doing, but also being compassionate to the parent, too,” he said.
The contract between HMH and the city of Elizabethtown was first adopted in 2013, allowing the health company to be the exclusive medical provider for the facility.
The contract covers full-time attendance by trainers for each event at the park, and can involve anything from pre-game stretching to emergency care after injuries.
Luckily, Saturday’s games relatively were uneventful aside from slide rashes, blisters from breaking in new gloves and a few hits from balls here and there, Witzel said.
Generally with baseball, the further into the youth league season it gets, the more elbow, shoulder, and over-use injuries will occur, he said.
That’ll be when the athletic trainer’s job shifts more to therapy and preventative care, but freak accidents occur, overheated crowds or a brother or sister that runs too fast on the concrete to keep them busy in the meantime.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at 270-505-1746 or email@example.com.