By JENNIFER OSBORN
The health and safety of Helix athletes has always been a priority — so much so that in 1996, then-principal Doug Smith started a sports medicine course as an elective. Since that time, Helix has illustrated the commitment to that priority by adding two Certified Athletic Trainers (ATC) to the staff and, most recently, creating a career pathway in sports medicine to align with the requirements to be part of Helix’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) EDGE (Explore, Develop, Gain, Earn) program. Students in the CTE program participate in a multi-year sequence of academic and technical study to prepare them for career and college opportunities after high school. They are able to explore career options by taking academic courses that link with hands-on skills they will need to be successful in their future careers.
Helix teacher, ATC and Director of Sports Medicine Kathryn Welch started her career in sports medicine back in 2001 when she was a student in the sports medicine elective course taught by then-athletic trainer and current athletic director, Damon Chase. After graduating from college, Welch took over the course in 2008, and now teaches Beginning Sports Medicine, Advanced Sports Medicine, and Anatomy & Physiology, which make up the courses included in the Sports Medicine pathway.
Students in the program are also required to perform 15 hours of hands-on activity, with an additional 40 hours required for those in the honors-level program. Prior to restrictions implemented due to COVID-19, those hours would be completed through work off campus in medical settings, such as with physical therapists, in doctors’ offices, etc. Now, students expand their on-campus activities and earn hours working with Helix sports teams.
In the Beginning Sports Medicine course, students explore the medical field, learning about careers and the “circle of care,” meaning how different medical personnel work together to care for an athlete. They also learn about the human body and common sports injuries and ailments.
In Advanced Sports Medicine, students learn more detail, incorporating testing for and identification of injuries and ailments, using their hands-on skills and applying their knowledge.
“In Beginning, for example, we talk about how ankle tape helps prevent ankle sprains,” explained Welch. “In Advanced, we learn how to do the ankle tape. In Beginning, all of the assessments are traditional tests. In Advanced, all of the assessments are hands-on, using clinical skills.”
She and fellow ATC and Head Athletic Trainer Andie Jimenez are also responsible for supervising Helix’s Sports Medicine clinic, which is available to Helix athletes every day. Sports Medicine students also work in the clinic, and may be assigned tasks such as performing a knee evaluation, or other evaluations that pose no risk to the athlete, while supervised by one of the trainers.
“They present their findings to me, and I ask, ‘Did you check this, did you check that?’” Welch said. “They may say, ‘Oh no, I forgot’ and go back and do it, and that’s how they learn – by putting all the pieces together.”
Welch said the students take ownership of the situation, and express great pride in finding the “answer” when working with athletes.
According to Welch, the program provides a great foundation for any medical field.
“They learn how to interact with a patient, how to get all of the objective and subjective information, how to ask the right questions – those are clinical skills that they can take into being a surgeon, a pediatrician, a nurse, a physical therapist, a radiologist; all of that will carry over, even if they aren’t working in a sports demographic,” she said.
Students who complete the pathway receive distinction at graduation, designated by a special stole. The program has seen remarkable growth since its inception. In 2018, 15 students were recognized as completers of the pathway. The class of 2021 had 44 students complete the program, and Welch anticipates a similar number for the class of 2022. Her conservative estimate is that about 80% of the students who complete the program go on to some kind of health-related field of study in college, and most have gone into nursing or physical therapy. Welch has received messages from excited graduates, letting her know that they will be working on the sidelines at their university’s football game, or that they have been accepted to an internship program with an NFL team.
“We have an amazing team and sports medicine facility on our campus,” Welch said when asked about the best part of the program. “It rivals college rooms.”
The facility was remodeled and upgraded in 2017 and students have the opportunity to use specialized equipment (ultrasound machine, electrical stimulation therapy, hydrocollator) and receive impressive training because the department is so well supported by CTE and the Athletic Department. She notes that former Helix athletes return to campus and talk about the quality of the Helix facility when compared to their college facility, and during a recent audit, the auditor commented that the facility must be the best in the county.
According to Welch, Helix is one of only two schools in the county that has two Certified Athletic Trainers on staff and that at many schools, coaches are the people primarily responsible for the health and safety of their athletes.
“We have made it a priority,” she said. “Damon (Chase) has made it a priority that we will take care of our athletes and make sure the safety of our athletes does not fall only on our coaches. Coaches need to know that if something happens, there is a medical professional there and they can continue to take care of their team. It’s one of the things you can put in the column of ‘What Makes Helix a Special Place.’”
Welch gets emotional when she talks about the program and the students. “Last year, being away from ‘my kids’ was so hard,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears. “Teaching them hands-on skills through Zoom was miserable and I am so happy to have my kids this year in class, and that they chose to take the Advanced course even after taking the Beginning course on Zoom! It just makes my heart so happy.”
Helix sports update
As of this writing, the Helix football team stands ready to compete in the San Diego CIF Division 1 championship game. The field hockey team finished as league champions and advanced to the quarterfinal round of CIF. Girl’s volleyball advanced to CIF, but lost in the first round. Girls’ tennis finished as league champions, and several players advanced deep into CIF play. Boys’ water polo finished as CIF quarterfinalists.