Kerry Clewell: Helping students on and off the field

• BCHS Tigers' certified athletic trainer and staff keep athletes in top form

Tina Covington
Posted 3/14/17

In the sports arena, no one wants to hear the word: injury. Not the coach, not the parents and surely not the athlete. An injury can often sideline a player for the rest of a game and sometimes

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Kerry Clewell: Helping students on and off the field

• BCHS Tigers' certified athletic trainer and staff keep athletes in top form


BAY MINETTE, Ala. – In the sports arena, no one wants to hear the word: injury. Not the coach, not the parents and surely not the athlete. An injury can often sideline a player for the rest of a game and sometimes a whole season.

To keep those injuries at bay, Baldwin County High School has Kerry Clewell, a certified athletic trainer, and his “staff” of student helpers on the sidelines.

Clewell is employed by Bay Minette Physical Therapy and the company has provided an ATC for the school for more than 20 years. Clewell said the role of the athletic trainer is to catch injuries that need attention and help expedite continued care once an injury has occurred.

The ATC is trained to “prevent, evaluate and diagnose emergent, acute and chronic injuries and medical conditions, and ensure that they are treated properly or referred to the appropriate medical care as quickly as possible,” Clewell said.

The athletic trainer also helps rehabilitate an athlete post-injury to help them get back to mid-season form rather than have them do it on their own and, “continue the same body mechanics that led to injury in the first place.”

Athletic Director Nathan McDaniel said Clewell is a vital part of the athletic program.

“Injury prevention and rehabilitation is a key component to the success of our athletic programs,” McDaniel said. “Athletic training is a demanding job that requires countless hours of service to the organization. Not only does Kerry handle the rehabilitation of our athletes, but he forms personal relationships with our kids and is truly a part of our family.”

For Clewell, being assigned to Baldwin County High School brought him full circle. He graduated from the school and his father also served as the long-time ROTC instructor there.

Though he never intended to become an educator, he is now sharing his knowledge with a crew of student trainers who work alongside him at games. There are currently four students taking part in the Athletic Training Student Aide Program at BCHS but a dozen or so have taken part in recent years.

Clewell said the National Athletic Trainers Association limits the hands-on role of high school students but there is plenty to learn and do beyond ice packs and water cooler duty.

“The students I have so far have been extremely capable and willing to do everything they can. Students can learn to tape ankles, apply ice and heat treatments, and take care of minor wounds. I spend a great deal of time focusing on teaching them the basic anatomy of the body and how complex it truly is. They learn quickly what looks ‘normal’ and what doesn’t, and are great about alerting me to things that I don’t see.”

Grace Girby is just a freshman and said she has learned a lot in a short amount of time, calling Clewell “an amazing instructor.” She is using the opportunity to help narrow down a career path: physical therapist or athletic trainer. “I hope to gain the best knowledge I can with the field I decide to go into and I hope to get scholarship and an internship offer doing this. I hope to be ahead because of the knowledge that I will have.”

Grace began working with Clewell last summer and has spent many hours on the sidelines during football, volleyball and baseball games. “I realized how much they (athletes) actually need us during those times,” she said. “I think the best part is getting the patients back into the game. I love that we can care for the patients and, also, getting a front row seat at the game.”

Clewell said the student aides have the best seats in the house and a birds-eye view on the toll it takes on the athletes.

“For them it’s a very animated way to learn anatomy that may not speak to them from the book the way a patient on a table may and, in many cases, it helps elevate their science and biology grades to be able to understand things from an entirely different perspective.”

And sometimes the teacher becomes the student.

“The beauty of teachable moments goes both ways. At one point recently I was really over thinking a patient’s skin issue and thinking it might be a bacterial infection or the beginning of a Staph infection,” Clewell recalled. “My high school student recognized it immediately for what it was: a splinter. It taught me that sometimes I have to stop thinking about the worst-case scenario and let reality reign.”

For now, the student aides receive no class credit for their participation in the program but Clewell hopes that will eventually change. Long-term he would like to see the program offered as a technical education course for credit. In the meantime Bay Minette Physical Therapy owner David Wilkins is working to provide additional learning opportunities for them.

This summer the student aides will be able to take part in a three-day camp at Samford University to receive certification in CPR and first aid, among other skills. Clewell said this will help build up their confidence in dealing with injuries.

“The more confident the student is, the more helpful they can be and the better off the athletic program is,” he said. “I look forward to a point where each of my student aides can handle a player that has a small cut, stop the bleeding, bandage the wound, and get the athlete back on the field before I even know it happens.”

With a growing number of sports options, there are more students playing sports and even greater opportunities for injuries. McDaniel, the athletic director, said training up a new slate of trainers will not only benefit athletics, it will help a whole new crew of students become engaged in their school and prepare them for a potential career.

“It is our hope that we develop these student trainers so that it opens up an avenue for them to receive college scholarships in this field,” Coach McDaniel said. “Just like any other sport or club at our school, we want to provide students with opportunities to get involved, have pride in their school and program, and give themselves an opportunity to further their education.”