A Game Plan for Prevention

Department: Athletics

As hundreds of spectators cheer behind him, Glenn Beachy paces the sidelines and, with laser-like focus, observes every hit, tackle and block of Punahou's varsity football boys and their opponents. But unlike the roaring fans, Beachy isn't concentrating on the score or the last heart-pounding play. That's because as one of Punahou's three certified athletic trainers, he is looking for something that fans are not.

"If someone goes down at a weird angle, you may not be able to pick out exactly who it is, but there is movement there that is not normal," explains Beachy, who holds a master's in adapted physical education and has more than 35 years of experience. Beachy and colleagues Darryl Funai and Beth Ann Young look at the initial point of contact and watch for certain patterns. Noticing one wrong move, within seconds one of them sprints to a player's aid. "Every sport is different," says Beachy. "[Injury in] soccer tends to be more around the ball. Football, a lot happens away from the ball that you have to be aware of."

Despite the seemingly miraculous way in which they tend to players with speed and precision, Beachy, Funai and Young can't deflect a sprained ankle or foresee a sudden onset of heatstroke. But they are exceptional at providing sports medical care and reducing injuries. It all starts hours before game time in the training room – aka "The Cave" – where, in the words of Funai, the trio offers up a dose of "prevention, treatment, evaluation and rehabilitation." Players pack The Cave, queuing up for first-come, first-served attention. As Funai skillfully wraps the wrist of a football player, Beachy inspects the knee of an injured athlete. "I've let coach know you can't go to practice, and you need to see a doctor," he tells the student. Nearby, Young ices a player's calf while talking to a swimmer with back pain. "For one, your posture is bad ... are you working your core?" Upon further examination, Young recognizes the problem. "When your hamstrings are tight, it can affect your lower back," she informs the swimmer before prescribing stretching exercises. The trainers, a sea of calm in adolescent chaos, dole out treatments in a firm yet friendly fashion.

While only one-third of U.S. high schools with interscholastic sports employ certified athletic trainers, the trainers' specialized knowledge does not go unnoticed by the Athletic Department and its coaches. The trainers execute nearly 1,200 evaluations and 12,000 to 15,000 treatments per year, an impressive undertaking considering they easily perform the duties of double the staff. So how do they divvy up the work? They follow their passions. "I love wrestling, so they're not going," Beachy says, referring to his coworkers. Because of the sheer intensity of the game, all three trainers attend varsity football. But with cross country, wrestling, soccer, basketball and many other sports to go around.

Behind the scenes, they are reporting, evaluating and analyzing injuries in an effort to keep players healthy and in the game. When, why and how injuries occur are the basis of an end-of-year report to coaches. Without it, some concerns may be overlooked. For instance, when the trainers noticed softball players getting hurt as they slid into second base, they knew it was more than a performance issue. "When they moved softball from Chamberlain Field to Rice Field, the cutout for second base was too small. The girls were hitting the dirt and going too fast into the base," says Beachy. The trainers suggested making the opening bigger. Problem solved. And when the third week of cross country practice set off more-than-the-usual cases of shin splints, the trainers asked coaches to "change some of the interval work or running patterns, which would allow the body to recover a little bit," Beachy recalled.

The trainers remind coaches and parents that not all student-athletes are created equal. Tracking the 700 to 900 athletes per season allows them to document age and gender differences. Middle-schoolers are more prone to growth-plate injuries, and "we see more overuse injuries in high school," says Young, a 16-year Punahou veteran. Girls get injured more than boys, and are at increased risk for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. With those findings, the trainers stepped into action, organizing an ACL prevention workshop for coaches of girls teams.

The latest sports medicine technology keeps Beachy, Funai and Young focused on safety. Take ImPACT, a neuropsychological Web-based test that measures cognitive function related to concussions: attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, nonverbal problem solving and reaction time. First, a baseline test is given. Then after injury, the athlete retakes the test. "[ImPACT] gives us an objective measure to track a concussed athlete's post-injury status," says Funai. With it, the trainers can assess when a student-athlete is ready to return to activity. It comes at a time when Punahou has "upgraded protocol on concussion management," reports Beachy. What happens now when a player takes a blow to the head? According to the 2008 International Conference on Concussions, that player is coming out of the game – period. And the trainers wouldn't have it any other way.

Beachy, Funai and Young rank high on a safety-first scorecard, where they are advocates, counselors, educators and healthcare providers to young athletes. As Punahou Athletic Director Jeaney Garcia put it, "Their level of service and making sure that the safest possible environment is being adhered to is so valuable."

The training room is funded in part through the Denis ’59 and Diantha ’61 Leong Endowed Fund.


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