Ryan Howard’s immediate responsibility was to diagnosis and treat the football player’s injured knee. But he faced an even tougher challenge in convincing the anxious young player, only a sophomore, that he could not return to the state championship game and risk further injury.
Such are the duties Howard faces in his job as Payson High School’s athletic trainer.
The incident with the sophomore’s injured knee occurred Nov. 29 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff where the Longhorns were playing Blue Ridge for the 2008 state championship.
Howard successful treated the young player’s injury and, with a stern but genuine bit of guidance, was able to convince him to stay on the sidelines and focus on returning next season healthy and at full speed.
Howard is a trainer at Payson High as part of a unique agreement between the school and Payson Regional Medical Center.
“We pay him and provide some equipment, the school supplies the space,” said PRMC Marketing Director Cory Houghton.
Principal Roy Sandoval calls the agreement between the school and PRMC tremendously beneficial for all concerned, especially the athletes.
“They (the student-athletes) get first-class, top-notch treatment at very little cost to the district,” he said.
So, gone are the days at PHS when coaches were the only medical help available, and most spent as much time wrapping ankles and firing up whirlpools as they did actually coaching.
Houghton remembers the agreement between PRMC and PHS having his roots in 2005 when administrators and medical center officials, including Dr. Olivia Morris, sat down and discussed some of the ways the two could work together for the betterment of the student-athletes.
“We wanted to find a hands-on, frontline way to work with athletes and their parents,” she said. “The sports medicine program is one part of what we offer here that also includes Tiny Toes, Healthy Women and Senior Circle.”
Tiny Toes is directed at maternity, Healthy Women at those 25 years and older and Senior Circle at those 50-years-plus.
While a big focus of the sports medicine offering is high school athletes, it also diagnoses and treats what Houghton calls Payson’s “Weekend Warriors.”
The agreement between PHS and PRMC allows Howard, a certified trainer, to be at nearly all team practices and travel with the squads to away games.
His presence is also a calming relief to parents, who often fret over injuries and proper care.
“I have parents come up to me and say, ‘thanks for looking after’ my son or daughter,” Howard said. “That makes you feel good.”
In addition to diagnosing and treating injuries, Howard is also is available to counsel athletes, advise coaches and oversee student-athletic trainers.
Among those students is Kacey Couch, a mid-year graduate, who gave almost 500 hours since last spring. Also, Ciara Romance, a junior, gave the program more than 200 hours during the same period.
Couch has been accepted at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She hopes to get into the university’s highly competitive athletic training degree program, which Howard thinks she has a good chance of accomplishing.
He also believes the student trainer program will be expanding.
“I’ve got a lot more students showing interest in it,” he said. “It’s a great way for students to get involved in their school.”
PRMC CEO Chris Wolf said the hospital’s sports medicine program provides support for student-athletes and also makes it possible for young people to get acquainted with the career opportunities in the field of student-athletic trainers.
If there is a common ground that school officials, health professionals, athletes and student trainers see eye-to-eye upon, it’s the agreement between PHS and PRMC is a win-win situation for all.