Keeping the student athletes safe

Owen High School recognized by National Athletic Trainers Association

Fred McCormick

Student athletes and their parents have plenty on their plates when faced with the demands associated with playing high school sports. The safety of students is the biggest concern.

An award from the National Athletic Trainers Association, which Owen High School unveiled at halftime of the Warlassies basketball game on Jan. 20, recognizes the efforts of the athletic trainers at the school and their work with the athletic department.

Student-athletes at Owen display the banner which recognizes the school as a Safe Sports School for the next three years.

Crystal Shirk of Pardee Sports Medicine is the regional manager for the counties of Haywood and Buncombe. She’s been the head athletic trainer at Owen for 10 years.

“One of my biggest things is looking for athletic trainers that want to stay in one place,” she said. “Because developing those relationships with the athletic department at the school is key to what we do.”

Owen earned the NATA Safe Sports School Award, which recognizes high schools that take decisive measures in reducing the risk of injuries in student athletes. In order to qualify for the award the school must meet specific criteria set forth by NATA.

“It’s a recognition of the school itself,” Shirk said. “This is something that takes effort from the athletic training staff, the administrative staff and the athletic director, together, to put your school in a position to earn this.”

Shirk provides emergency care or initial evaluations for injuries that occur during games or practices at Owen. Much of her focus is also on preventing injuries. She works in conjunction with physicians from Southeastern Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, who are on-hand at high school sporting events throughout Western North Carolina.

Crystal Shirk works with Warlassies basketball player Caitlyn Ledford as the Warhorses play on Jan. 20.

“We also help in rehabilitation aspect," she said. "We work with the kids who have injuries and help them with their physical therapy."

Junior Sidney Gibbs suffered a knee injury in the weeks leading up to football season. Although the injury forced him to miss the season he credited the athletic training staff at the school with helping him get through it.

"They've given me some of the best support," he said. "Everyday they ask how I'm doing, and not just about my leg, they want to know how I'm doing as a person."

The time Gibbs spent with Shirk and her staff while rehabilitating his knee left a lasting impression on him.

"I think we have the best athletic training staff in the region," he said. "They care so much about our well-being and getting us back out on the field as quickly as possible, while making sure we're as healthy as possible."

Owen athletic director Anthony Lee and principal Meg Turner presented Shirk and physicians from Southeastern Sports Medicine and Orthopedics with plaques as a banner was unveiled to recognize the Safe Sports School designation, which lasts through 2019.

"This is all a group effort," Shirk said. "In the 10 years I've been working with Owen we've developed a relationship that is a lot like a family atmosphere. If anybody sees a need and finds something that can be done better, nobody has a problem speaking up so we can all take care of it together."