The athletic trainers at Johnson County’s high schools will all be working late tonight, patching athletes up before, during and after the evening’s football games.
But while Fridays are often the longest work day, most athletics trainers also consider it the simplest.
“During the week’s definitely busier for us,” said Sarah Rowe, one of two full-time athletic trainers at Whiteland. “Football coming in later (on Friday) spaces everything out. It’s not everybody hitting us as the bell rings.”
On fall weekdays, the training rooms across Johnson County get hit with a mad rush of athletes from numerous sports — football, volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf and cross country. That can be a lot to handle for someone like Greenwood’s Liz Crim, who has just three training tables and one student assistant (sophomore Kiley Tuttle), so many athletic trainers enjoy being able to space the workload out on Fridays.
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“You kind of do look forward to Fridays, just because you don’t get all of the football players right after school,” Edinburgh athletic trainer Ben Bingham said.
The action gets spaced out more on Fridays because most athletic trainers don’t tape up football players until closer to game time. Rowe says that she and colleague Travis Smarelli usually start taping for home games until about 5:30 p.m., after the Warriors have done their pregame walk-throughs.
For road games, they won’t do it until arriving at the host school, unless it’s a short trip to Center Grove, Franklin or Greenwood.
“Tape will stretch out,” Rowe said, “so taping them before the walk-through, your tape’s not doing anything by the time the game starts.”
Most county athletic trainers adhere to that philosophy, even though it can sometimes leave a narrower window of time. Bingham, who travels separately for Edinburgh road games and meets the equipment van before the team bus arrives, often faces a time crunch with the Lancers’ frequent longer road trips.
“Sometimes you get rushed,” he said. “Switzerland County is a far drive. They couldn’t get a bus, I think, until 4:30, so they got there around 6, 6:30 and game time was a little after 7.”
Traffic concerns on Interstate 465 are a major part of the reason that Center Grove’s head athletic trainer, Dave Buchholz, bucks the local trend. He and his staff tape the Trojan players after the team’s pregame meal and before the bus takes off.
Unlike many of his counterparts, he’s not too worried about that tape stretching out too much before kickoff.
“It’s not a concern for me, because our guys aren’t out doing stuff with the tape on,” Buchholz explained. “They’re sitting in the locker room getting their pads together or they’re riding the bus, so they’re not stretching the tape out as far as I’m concerned.”
The bigger concern at some schools when it comes to tape is stretching the budget.
While some of larger programs have a little more money to play with, others need to be more frugal. That leads to different philosophies in how liberally athletic tape is used.
Center Grove, for instance, goes through at least one 32-roll case of tape each Friday and packs as many as 48 for a typical game. Greenwood, on the other hand, only goes through about two rolls on most game nights.
Much of the discrepancy depends on whether the athletic trainers are doing preventative taping as well as wrapping up existing injuries. Center Grove and Franklin end up taping up about half of their varsity players for various reasons, including such precautionary measures as wrist wrapping for linemen.
Kacey Bennett, the assistant athletic trainer at Franklin tasked with handling the football team’s needs during the fall, estimates that half of her tape jobs are for prior injuries, while the other half are either preventative wraps — or coverage of turf burns that could potentially open up at a crucial time during a game.
“We don’t want (a player) to have to come out mid-series because he’s bleeding all over his jersey, because he’s ripped it open,” Bennett said.
While the Trojans and Grizzly Cubs use dozens of rolls of tape on game nights — and that’s not even counting finger tape, pre-wrap, stretchy tape or kinesiology tape — other schools are more conservative. Crim says that she only goes through about two rolls of tape per game, and roughly seven or eight in an entire week.
Greenwood tends to do less taping, Crim explains, in part because of budget constraints but also because she doesn’t do any preventative wrapping.
“I don’t do that,” she said. “I know some people do, but I’m a big believer that if there’s nothing wrong, I’m not going to tape you. It’s just for looks, and I don’t tape for looks.”
At Whiteland, where injury prevention is a point of emphasis throughout the athletic department, Rowe and Smarelli will only tape areas that merit treatment throughout the week.
“If you want to get taped on Friday night, we ask that you come in and do rehab during the week or that you’re getting taped during the week, so we know that you’re doing something to try and get better,” Rowe said. “Not just getting taped for the sake of getting tape.
“Rehab and strengthening is ultimately going to be more beneficial than just taping you on a Friday night.”
Taping is just one part of the athletic trainers’ pregame routines, though. Most are preparing for games early in the afternoon by packing up medical kits and, in the case of home games, readying coolers of water and ice for both sidelines.
Later in the afternoon, athletic trainers — usually with help from student managers — will start bringing supplies out to the sidelines. These can include treatment tables, defibrillators, splints and crutches, among other items.
The key is being ready for any incident that may happen during a game. When teams are on the road, that puts an added premium on preparation and double-checking what gets packed.
“If you forget something for an away game, you can’t just run inside and grab it,” Crim said.
Once everything is packed up and players are taped, there’s usually a little bit of a lull in the action before kickoff. Some athletic trainers use that calm-before-the-storm time to grab a bite to eat.
Even during the slower periods, though, small tasks often pop up right up until game time.
“There’s still guys that’ll come and get their wrists taped even after warmups,” Bennett says, “or, ‘Oh, this foot taping is rubbing me wrong; you need to redo it.’ Which actually hasn’t happened this year, because I’m just that good — but if it were to happen, that’s the time to make those adjustments.”
Once the game starts, the athletic trainers are ready for anything that might come their way; obviously, some Friday nights are busier and longer than others, but there’s usually something to tend to when it comes to high school football.
No matter what comes up, Rowe doesn’t seem to mind.
“I’m one of those people — I like the chaos,” she said.