Freeport Area High School senior Anastazia Herbst has known she wanted to be a doctor ever since she was in elementary school, but was unsure which specialty she wanted to pursue.
She realized it was in sports medicine and orthopedic surgery after working as a student athletic training aide during her junior and senior years.
“I really enjoy learning different things, basic things that I can apply to myself, different wound care things,” said Herbst, 17. “Also, seeing the injuries, watching the mechanism of the injury, and also getting to follow up and see the rehab and all of the other aspects that go into it.”
Herbst is one of three student athletic training aides in her school district.
She sets out taping supplies, prepares water and ice, and makes sure certain medical equipment is on hand in case there is an emergency.
“(I make) sure we have everything we need for any situation we might have throughout the day,” she said.
Not every school has student athletic training aides, but the program is popular at Norwin, where 10 students are participating this year.
Norwin High School senior Katie Brooks heard all the stereotypes about her role with the school’s football team.
“A lot of people think we are just water girls, and that’s what people call us,” she said. “They don’t actually see a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, when, after hours, we put in so much time.”
Brooks used to play on the football team, as a kicker in her freshman year. After two hip surgeries she decided to pursue her love of sports as a student athletic training aide.
Most of the aides are interested in pursuing careers in sports or medicine, and helping out the football team can be a good first step, Athletic Director Brandon Rapp said.
“A lot of these kids want to go into the health care fields, and this gives them a chance to test the waters to see what it’s like,” he said.
The aides do get water, but they’re also responsible for making sure first-aid supplies are stocked. They help the players with athletic taping. And, perhaps most importantly, they keep an eye on the players, looking out for problems.
“They are our second set of eyes,” said Angie Snowberger, an Excela Health athletic trainer who works with the Norwin team. “If something happens, they can communicate to us immediately.”
There was a time when students would be even more involved, helping to apply first aid for some injuries, said Brian Mesich, who has been an athletic trainer at Norwin for 25 years. For safety, the National Athletic Trainers Association implemented new rules over the years. Students are now called aides rather than trainers, and they cannot treat, evaluate or manage injuries.
“Some high schools have backed away from it,” said Tim McMahon, who oversees Excela’s athletic training program.
However, despite the restrictions, McMahon thinks students get valuable experience as aides. Even though they can’t directly participate in an emergency, they’re still on the scene learning from the professionals. If they decide to go into sports medicine as a career, that experience will put them a step ahead of their peers.
“Too many people get into this profession not knowing what an emergency looks like,” he said.
Mesich has seen former trainers and aides go on to careers as doctors, nurses and athletic trainers.
“The benefit of them getting exposure to sports medicine is, I think, pretty critical,” he said.
Freeport’s Herbst has worked as a student athletic training aide during football, soccer and basketball games.
She says she has a whole new appreciation for Bill Siegel, Freeport’s athletic trainer, after seeing him in action.
Athletic events require Siegel to pull a lot of late nights, and he has to be prepared to deal with all types of injuries, from basic scrapes and bruises to ACL tears and sprains, she said.
She said her role is helpful because she can assist Siegel with little things that could potentially distract him from watching the players, such as getting ice.
“It makes his life a little bit easier,” she said.
Siegel said his student athletic training aides not only keep necessary medical equipment stocked, they also pick up on things he might not see.
“They’re my eyes. They’re my feet. They’re my arms. They say, ‘Mr. Siegel, #10 has gone down with an injury. It looks like he’s grabbing his left knee,’ ” he said. “That, to me, is one of the more valuable things they can do because, to be honest, during an event I don’t see everything.”
Greensburg Salem High School’s student aide program has seven participants.
Cameron Caretti is a sophomore. He plays on the school hockey team and works as an aide. He says the position has given him a new perspective on what’s happening off the field, or the rink.
“I respect the people who take care of us a lot more,” he said. “They don’t have any easy job, making sure that we’re OK.”
He aspires to be a trainer for the Penguins.
Junior Megan Toth said she hadn’t thought of becoming an aide until an offhand comment from her mom.
“We were at a football game, and my mom was kind of joking around and saying I should do it,” she said. The more Toth thought about it, the more serious she became. “I didn’t take it as a joke,” she said.
She said she’s learned a lot as an aide, particularly about communicating with people.
Barb Marschik is an athletic trainer with UPMC who oversees Greensburg Salem’s student aides.
“Anyone interested in the health fields, this is a perfect start for them,” she said.
She hopes spectators can put the water boy stereotype aside and respect a student aide’s ability to help the team and keep cool in emergencies.
“They have a real role here, and they’ve proven that when we need an ambulance on site,” she said. “They’re extensions of ourselves.”