BY PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
Odds are if you're a sports fan and have attended a Mt. Vernon event over the last half decade, Kerry Hammond has been there too.
Spectators might not have noticed her, but she's been a constant presence on the sidelines, bench or in the dugout during the hundreds of competition that play out during the course of a school year.
Hammond is entering her sixth year as the athletic trainer for Mt. Vernon Township High School. She is also the director of sports medicine at the Orthopedic Center of Southern Illinois. The yearly sports cycle has already started with summer activities, but Monday marked Hammond continuing her own sports season routine.
She met with coaches, making sure each had her contact information and briefed the group on policy changes from the previous season. She will also talk with each sports team prior to the season, explaining her role and who she is.
She has five years of experience at the high school and added that getting to know the athletes personally helps break down some of the barriers, especially when it comes to an athlete who may think they are invincible or that consulting a trainer is a sign of weakness.
“I'm having brothers and sisters of the kids that I had four, five years ago,” Hammond said. “That is fantastic because I know the families. I have known those kids ever since they were in seventh or eighth grade. I'm not quite as much of a stranger to those kids.”
One of the key aspects of Hammond's job includes knowing a particular athletes' pain threshold.
“I often say, 'I will find out if your are injured, or if you just have a boo-boo,” Hammond said.
That threshold can be different for all athletes and doesn't matter what sport they play.
“A lot of my job here is determining the severity of the injury,” Hammond said. “If it is something that does need to see a doctor, or if it's going to heal on its own. Every kid is different. They all have different pain thresholds, and there are some kids that have pain thresholds that I did not expect.”
Another critical aspect is education. Hammond has handouts available for the athletes. When an athlete comes to her with an injury, she writes down instructions on whether to see a doctor or get a brace if the injury is a sprain. The handouts include rehabilitation exercises and pictures of different braces. All the athletes has to do is point out the specific brace to the supply facility.
“I've found that giving them a handout with everything written on it is a lot better than telling them, because they forget,” Hammond said.
Typically, the public might think players in a sport like football are the toughest. Hammond said she remembers one of the toughest athletes she ever treated.
It was a cheerleader.
The cheerleader suffered an injury that pryed back one of her toenails. She went to the hospital, had surgery and competed the next day.
“I know a lot of football players that would have been done for a month with that,” Hammond said. “I couldn't believe she competed the next day.”
Football is the fall sport that can be the most challenging for an athletic trainer like Hammond. The sport, due to its physical nature, can create an unbalanced about of injuries compared to others. Mt. Vernon, like other schools, has tried to limit and minimize some of those incidents.
Last year Mt. Vernon implemented a computer-based concussion test. It was used as a way to test whether a player was ready to return to action. The test is back this season.
Another trend is the use of helmets with air pockets instead of padding. Every Mt. Vernon high school football player is equipped with an air helmet. The helmet creates a more customized fit with four different pockets that are inflated around the player's head. The idea is to create less slipping and movement when impact occurs. Although Hammond added the helmets themselves won't prevent a concussion, but the idea is to minimize the risk.
“Prevention for concussions is good neck strength and proper tackling,” Hammond said.
Mt. Vernon sports teams will gear up for fall sports season starting with practice and tryouts later this week, and odds are no matter the event Hammond will be at the sideline waiting to aid an athlete.