Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SPORTS >> Cates treats pains, sprains while pushing awareness

Jason Cates, who assists Jacksonville athletes, is one of four licensed athletic trainers in the area.

By TODD TRAUB

Leader sports editor

First, there is a professional distinction to be made.

Jacksonville High School athletic trainer Jason Cates and his brethren are wrapping up National Athletic Trainer Month and, for Cates, that has meant explaining exactly what an athletic trainer is.

“For whatever reason we still kind of, on a day-to-day basis, have to define our role; who we are,” Cates said. “We’re not physicians, we’re not physical therapists, we’re not personal trainers.”

Cates, 36, said it is important now to sharply define the term “athletic trainer” because the simplified term “trainer” has been tainted by the Major League Baseball steroid scandals in which certain trainers have been accused of providing illegal supplements to athletes.

Cates pointed out it was personal trainers obtaining the drugs, not athletic trainers, and he said the National Athletic Trainers Association insists on the correct terminology to protect its profession.

“This is my 10th year and even every day I have to correct somebody on what my certification is and what my specialty is,” Cates said.

Cates said the athletic trainer’s specialty is sports medicine — injury treatment, awareness and prevention — with active people. He said athletic trainers are trending away from being identified strictly with organized sports in order to present a broader appeal to politicians who legislate issues affecting athletics.

“With our endeavors with the legislative efforts, we found out that there are legislators out there who would rather tear down gymnasiums and bury over football fields,” Cates said. “And we have to make sure that we’re setting the mindset of not just athletics but active people in general.”

With baby boomers easing into their later years, Cates said athletic trainers have a chance to identify themselves with a broader group of people than simply high school or college athletes.

“We no longer say that we just tend to athletes,” said Cates, a full-time employee of Ortho Arkansas whose time is donated to Jacksonville. “With the baby boomers, our generation, we’re seeing people up intotheir 70s and 80s that are still running marathons and being active.

“If they are athletic-minded, athletic-type people, that’s who we take care of. That’s our niche.”

Cates is one of four certified athletic trainers working with Leader- area schools. Newcomer Justin Shipp is athletic trainer at Beebe; veteran Randy Harriman is at Searcy and Cathy Burl is a teacher and athletic trainer at Lonoke.

If Cates had his way, every high school sports program in Arkansas would have an assigned athletic trainer. As it is, of the 332 schools under the Arkansas Activities Association banner, only 36 have the services of athletic trainers.

Cates said Arkansas can’t, or shouldn’t, mandate that schools hire athletic trainers because of the cost, but there are ways to get around the expense.

If schools can’t find the money to hire a full-time athletic trainer, time could be donated through a medical-outreach program, as has been the case with Cates and Jacksonville.

But cost is only part of the problem. Arkansas is simply not turning out athletic trainers in great numbers and there are only 107 licensed athletic trainers in the state, Cates said.

There are six undergraduate athletic trainer programs at Arkansas colleges and universities and only one graduate program.

But Cates said out-of-state students frequently claim slots within those programs, only to take their newfound skills back home.

Cates and his fellow athletic trainers are advocating secondary school athletic trainer programs like the ones that have begun or are beginning at Bentonville, Alma and Cabot. That way, students can study the field in high school, get their degree in college and keep their services in Arkansas.

Once licensed, Cates said, an athletic trainer’s job is as much about prevention and awareness as it is treating injuries. Pre-participation examinations and EKGs could have prevented many of the on-court or on-field deaths caused by sudden cardiac arrest or heat-related conditions that have made headlines nationally and in Arkansas.

“There’s no way in the world that a coach would ever put an athlete in harm’s way,” Cates said. “It’s just not going to happen, but there are coaches that push, and if they’re educated they know when to pull back instead of pushing too far.”