Norwin High School senior Katie Brooks has 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 in a different way — as a student athletic training aide.
It’s a role that involves much more than getting water and Gatorade for thirsty players.
Not every school has student aides, but the program is popular at Norwin, where 10 students are participating this year.
Most aides are interested in pursuing careers in sports or medicine, and helping out the football team can be a good first step, said athletic director Brandon Rapp.
“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.
Aides do get water, but they’re also responsible for making sure first-aid supplies are stocked. They help 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 apply first aid for some injuries, said Brian Mesich, who’s been an athletic trainer at Norwin for 25 years. In the interest of safety, the National Athletic Trainers Association has 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.
Despite the restrictions, McMahon thinks students still get valuable experience. Even though they can’t directly participate in an emergency, they’re still on the scene learning from 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.
The student aide program at Greensburg Salem High School has seven participants.
Sophomore Cameron Caretti 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 an easy job, making sure that we’re OK.”
He aspires to be a trainer for the Pittsburgh 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 student aides for their 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,” Marschik said. “They’re extensions of ourselves.”