By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Seven Buchtel High School students are learning the finer points of taping athletes' ankles, feet and thumbs at their own training camp at Akron Children's Hospital this week.
They are spending four days with the hospital's sports medicine staff learning everything from helmet safety to recognizing when intense exertion triggers a rare, but potentially deadly collapse associated with an inherited blood trait.
They can thank their PTA president and Buchtel alumnus Diana Autry, who has been a registered nurse at Children's for six years and won a $1,500 grant in an annual competition among employees to propose an outreach program for the hospital.
Autry thought a camp for the student athletic aides would not
only increase their practical skills and knowledge, but also expose them to a potential career path.
Buchtel already offers career education programs in pre-nursing and emergency medical technician/fire protection.
''We hope eventually to tie this into our curriculum here,'' Autry said.
Two of the new student aides, both juniors, already see careers in health.
De'Lienne Cooper, 17, hopes to major in neonatology and minor in sports medicine when she goes to college. Jasmine Anthony, also 17, is aiming toward dentistry as a major, with sports medicine her second choice.
They're working with Valerie Holbrook, the athletic outreach coordinator at Children's, who is armed with U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections that show good job prospects.
The BLS shows employment for athletic trainers rising from 16,300 in 2008 to 22,400 in 2018 — a 37 percent increase, most likely in hospitals, fitness centers and recreational sport centers.
The BLS says growth in positions on professional and collegiate sports teams, which already have complete athletic training staffs, will be slower.
Such jobs might be rarer, but they're not out of reach.
Holbrook was the head athletic trainer for the Akron Racers professional fast-pitch softball team from 1999 through the 2005 season, when the Racers won the National Pro Fastpitch championship.
She also was the athletic trainer for the ''Tour of Fastpitch Champions'' in 2001 — a promotional tour for the Olympic team in a non-Olympic year.
''If you keep an open mind, your opportunities are limitless,'' Holbrook said.
But before packing their bags for the Cleveland Browns, trainers must learn such basics as how to tape an ankle.
Buchtel has hired recent Buchtel grad Ashley Walton, 20, to lead the student athletic aides.
They have already started learning on the job, assisting the football team's preseason conditioning,
Walton showed two of her apprentices how it's done on a steamy day two weeks ago in the cramped concrete block room where Buchtel does its laundry.
Defensive end/right guard Anthony Bell, a senior, broke his ankle last year against Youngstown's Ursuline High School, so he gets that ankle wrapped for every practice.
He sat up on a table while Walton spun the black tape around his ankle — not too loose, not too tight.
''It's perfect,'' Bell said.
The student athletic aides also will be trained to recognize the signs of more serious problems, such as concussions and sudden collapses under extreme conditioning caused by an inherited blood characteristic called sickle cell trait.
Unlike sickle cell disease, the genetic sickle cell trait normally doesn't present any medical problems, according to Dr. Jeffrey Hord, director of the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Hospital.
Hord explains the condition in a video on Children's Web site, https://www.akronchildrens.org (find the audio visual library under the ''Health Info'' tab).
In rare cases under intense physical exertion — such as repeated 100-yard sprints with little recovery time — the red blood cells in someone with the trait can bend into a crescent moon (sickle) shape that can clog vessels, rapidly leading to muscle breakdown, kidney failure and a stopped heart.
Some of the symptoms can look like heat illness, but instead of feeling hard, painful cramps, the athlete experiences significant weakness and might even collapse where he or she is standing.
''The kids need to understand as well as the coaches that heat illness and exertional sickling sometimes have some of the appearance of the same symptoms, but they're not and you need to treat them differently,'' Holbrook said. ''You don't rapidly cool them like you would in a heat illness; that actually accelerates the sickling process.''
Buchtel football coach Ricky Powers has about 100 players to look out for on the field and is happy that his athletic aides will be getting more training.
''Ms. Autry always wanted to help out, especially when it comes to the training bit,'' Powers said. ''And she really wanted to get Children's Hospital involved.''
Holbrook said that although Buchtel contracts with Akron General Medical Center to have a certified trainer available on game days and to check up on injured players, the student athletic aides will be helping at every practice.
''They're eyes and ears,'' Holbrook said. ''They take great ownership of what they do right now. We just hope to give them better guidance with the educational component.''