|UW-Eau Claire||News Bureau|
|Schofield Hall 218|
|Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
MAILED: Jan. 27, 1997
EAU CLAIRE - Let's say there are a couple minutes left in the basketball game, the Blugolds are down by two and the team's star player goes out with an injured ankle. As the clock winds down, the star returns to the court with a heavily wrapped ankle and makes the game's winning shot.
When the game ends, reporters will interview the injured star, and coaches and teammates will praise him or her for playing despite the injury. Chances are, nobody will mention the student athletic trainers who made it possible for the player to return to the game.
"These students put in more hours than the athletes," said Jeff Oliphant, assistant professor of kinesiology and head athletic trainer. "They get here well before every practice and game to set up the training room. They get players ready for the game or practice. They treat players during the game. And they work with the players after the games. They're the first ones here and don't leave until after the last athlete has left."
The long hours and limited recognition come with the territory, said Toni Tsounis, a sophomore exercise management major and trainer for the swimming and diving team.
"I got involved in training when I was in high school so I understood the commitment required when I came here," Tsounis said, noting that on the days of meets her day begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. "I enjoy what I do so it doesn't bother me to put in the hours. To me it's not a job but something fun to do."
It's also something Tsounis hopes to make a career of when she finishes her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She'd like to work in a high school clinical setting or a small college, and, of course, there is always the hope of a position with the Green Bay Packers.
UW-Eau Claire's program enrolls 15 or 16 students each semester. Students are typically majoring in exercise management and have an interest in a career working with athletes, Oliphant said, noting that there are biology and other kinesiology-related majors in the program.
While each student is assigned teams each year, students also work with various community and state organizations, Oliphant said. For example, the students provide services to Eau Claire Youth Hockey, YMCA events and tournaments, and they are the only medical coverage for all Indianhead Special Olympics events in the area.
"With the special needs our athletes have, it's certainly a tremendous benefit to us to have the students and Jeff (Oliphant) on site," said Bob Lesniewski, director for Indianhead Special Olympics. "They address the basic first aid problems that come up. It's security for us to know that we have competent people there to assist us."
The students are responsible and professional, Lesniewski said, noting they work from two to eight hours depending on the event.
"They do a great job as far as interacting with the athletes who have cognitive disabilities," Lesniewski said. "They address their medical needs but also instill a confidence in the athletes that what is being done is really good for them."
Under Oliphant's leadership during the past eight years, the program has become more structured and has grown in numbers and popularity.
"We are a popular program and well known in the state," Oliphant said, adding that the number of women entering the field has increased in recent years. "We're to the point that we're getting so many applicants that we're turning away students who want to be in the program."
Students take core classes but most of the learning is on-the-job, Oliphant said.
"The students are responsible for the care and treatment of all injuries that occur," Oliphant said. "If a referral to an emergency room or a doctor is needed, they make that referral."
"We learn a lot from Jeff," Tsounis said of Oliphant. "He's there if we have questions and he oversees our work, but he let's us go. And he gets us involved in teams other than just those at the university which will be helpful in the future."
Students put at least 20 hours a week into their work with university teams and even more hours into their volunteer activities, Oliphant said. The volunteer activities provide students with additional experience and provide a chance to network with people in the field, he said.
To be certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association, students must take core classes, pass a national exam and complete 1,500 hours of supervised field work. Most program graduates go to graduate school and then find jobs in clinical settings, Oliphant said. Some alumni are athletic trainers at the collegiate level and one works for a professional hockey team.
"I think for most of our students the ultimate goal would be to work for a professional sports team," Oliphant said. "But they recognize that that is very difficult to do. And it's often who you know not what you know that gets you into those organizations."
Oliphant recruits high school students for the program based on academics, their ability to balance classroom work and outside activities, and a sincere interest in working with athletes.
"Time management and time commitment are big things," he said of students in the program. "I'm proud to say that the average GPA for students in the program is 3.25. That's really good considering the time they put into this.
"These students work 20 hours a week and rarely have a weekend off," Oliphant said. "Their holidays are cut short and sometimes they don't get a spring break. They have to keep up their classroom work and keep up a schedule like this for four years."
It's rare, Oliphant said, that a student will work for the same team for more than one season. Students are rotated to a new team each season so they get experience with a maximum number of sports, he said.
Most institutions within the UW System have athletic training programs but all are organized differently, Oliphant said. It's unlikely, he said, that UW-Eau Claire's program will grow in size because of the limited number of team assignments. More participants could mean assigning multiple trainers to each team and that would take away from the experiences of the athletic trainers, he said.
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UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: April 23, 1997