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More than tape and splints

South Boston News
Breanna “Bree” Dufour / June 01, 2020
A lot of people think of athletic trainers as the men and women that tape an athlete’s ankle when injured, or apply ice, or are called to the court or playing field to evaluate a player’s health.

But the role of an athletic trainer is a lot more involved. And the presence of an athletic trainer in high school athletics can have positive impacts on the athletes, coaches, parents and the sports programs.

Halifax County High School has had an athletic trainer on staff for several years now.

Since 2019 Breanna “Bree” Dufour has been the Comets ‘athletic trainer. The University of Virginia graduate who holds a Master’s of Science in athletic training said she enjoys being a part of the Comet sports family.

“I have been the Halifax County High School athletic trainer since July 2019,” Dufour said. “I graduated with my master’s spring 2019 and started the job hunt immediately.”

She said her move to Halifax wasn’t exactly planned out but was welcomed.

“I kind of stumbled upon the job in at Halifax County High School, but when I had my interview at the school, I found the town and its people charming. I love the open area and the small town vibe.

“The school had great spirit as well as coach and administrative support. I thought that HCHS would be a great place to practice and develop my skills as an athletic trainer. It has been a huge learning curve as a new athletic trainer, but the athletes, staff, and parents have been very supportive and receptive.”

Dufour is contracted to the school through a physical therapy clinic, Rehab Associates of Central VA. The company is prominent in providing physical therapy.

“I went to Manchester High School in Midlothian. I then graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Virginia in 2017. In 2019 I graduated from U.Va. with my Master of Science in athletic training as a part of this program’s inaugural class.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust all sorts of ‘essential’ jobs into the spotlight recently, seemingly none more so than those in the health care community. Athletic trainers in high school is topic Dufour is passionate about.

Dufour said she understands some schools may not budget for an athletic trainer, but having one on staff can not only affect the student-athletes but the community as a whole.

“I understand that many schools cannot afford onsite healthcare professionals. But there are ways around this,” she said. Some schools will contract an AT, or even EMT, to provide temporary coverage for coverage at games of high-risk sports. This still supports the team with emergency care in case a catastrophic injury occurs.

“However, having an onsite, full time athletic trainer can help cut down on healthcare costs in the community. Athletic trainers are educated on various diagnostic and treatment methods that can put off trips to physicians or decrease long-term rehabilitations. Also, because they are onsite, athletic trainers are more accessible to the athletes and provide immediate suggestions, rehab and/or taping/bracing that can help the athlete return to play sooner.

“Athletic trainers also have a role in lifestyle education for athletes. Many athletes don’t know how to stretch their tight muscles or how to fuel properly before a game. ATs are there to provide this information. And this little bit of education can make a strong impact on how an athlete competes. I always try to educate my athletes so they are better aware of their bodies and how they treat themselves.

“The truth is, the majority of our athletes are not going to be professional athletes. They need to be ready for the working world after school. Athletic trainers help address issues that may go otherwise untreated. And they help educate the youth on healthy practices, hopefully encouraging a healthy lifestyle.

“Sports programs have gone without athletic trainers. But those that have them, see a difference.”

Dufour said she knew when she headed off to college she wanted to major in kinesiology. But she says it was an injury she suffered that helped her decide to become an athletic trainer.

Dufour was a competitive baton twirler at Midlothian and at U.Va. She earned local and national awards and rankings for her talents and competed from age 11-22.

She said a lot of people have no idea about the competition but she earned a partial scholarship to U.Va. to be a member of the Cavalier Marching Band.

“I received a partial scholarship from the Cavalier Marching Band, but other colleges provide full tuition funding for their marching band feature twirler positions — it helps a lot of twirlers get good educations. It is extremely physical, especially as you rise through the competition ranks, pushing for harder, faster unique tricks.

“I did my graduate research project on injuries in collegiate competitive baton twirlers which I hope will give awareness of the physical demands of the sport to those who don’t think it is a sport and awareness of the risk of injury to those who compete in the sport.”

Competitive baton twirling combines dance and gymnastics with the hand-eye coordination required to move the baton. It’s a little-known sport, but huge to those who partake.

“I knew I wanted to go to school for kinesiology because I was interested in how the body works. I was fascinated at all the cool things we can do with it, from sports to arts to just everyday stuff.

“I knew I wanted to be an athletic trainer when I injured myself during my first year of college, at the peak of my competitive career. This injury was recurrent and set me back months in training and competing. I was encouraged to do rehab at home but I did not know how to go about it myself. It was tough enough for my family to finance the sport without adding the cost of a doctor’s visit and physical therapy for something I may be able to take care of myself.

“This made me realize that not everyone has easy access to healthcare. Athletes, no matter what type, are at higher risk of injury and need to take care of injuries, ideally with the help of professionals, or else, like for me, it can be the end of your career.”

To give one an idea of how Dufour’s day goes as the Comets’ AT, it starts early and ends long after she has gone home.The normal day includes everything from setting up water coolers, to evaluations, to rehabilitation services.

Dufour said she sees the role of the AT becoming more involved in the wake of the coronavirus. Currently injury evaluations, injury rehabilitation and treatments, parent and coach communication and education, patient education, injury documentation, and wound care and first aid are carried out daily.

“Worst case scenario, I’ll get three broken arms to respond to within five minutes and splint and send these off. Then after practice, I will meet them at the emergency department, providing support for the athletes and families, possibly getting to watch a gnarly surgery — true story,” she said.

The AT’s role in this will be determined by the state, school administration, employer and job description at the school. “Overall, yes, I do see ATs becoming more involved because they are onsite and experienced in this type of work.”

When asked about her concerns for student-athletes, she stressed her concerns go deeper than just the physical well-being of her kids. Mental health is also a big part of kid’s development

“First concern is that those who play in the fall most likely haven’t completed significant conditioning since the fall. The sports acclimatization period will be tough on them and may take longer than normal. If returned to play too quick, injury risk is higher and so is athlete burnout,” Dufour said.

She added because there are no recreational sports during this summer and because school summer conditioning programs are cancelled, fewer students are spending time outside, acclimating to the heat. When August comes, heat will definitely be an issue, especially with equipment-clad athletes and endurance athletes.

If any student-athlete was exposed to COVID-19, there may be lasting effects on their body, especially the cardiovascular system. This may limit their endurance capacity.

“During the first seven weeks of quarantine, I sent out three to five emails weekly with information on sports performance and multiple workouts for the athletes,” Dufour said. “The coaches would send out this information via emails or Google Classrooms to keep the students involved.

“We are still learning more about the long-term effects of the virus and how to monitor those who were ill. I do worry about adolescent’s mental health during this time. A great part of maturing is socializing and developing social skills.

“It is important to increase awareness of mental health in the youth, especially during this time. It is not my job to treat mental health, but it is a part of my job to be aware of its impact on the athletes.”

And for those athletes living in nutrition-challenging environments Dufour says students have to eat and should use all available resources.

“For those who face challenges getting proper nutrition, I encourage utilizing the free meal programs; it is better to eat something than eat nothing,” Dufour said. “If a family is unable to get meals from the school, the South Boston YMCA has a meal program that drops off two weeks of meals for the whole family.”

Dufour is excited for the 2020 graduating class. Being with the students at HCHS has had a positive affect on her also.

“To my graduated 2020 seniors — I am very proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. I wish I had more time to work with you, but am very excited to see what you will go on to do in the future!”

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