Training to train
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Just beyond the main gym at Billings (Mont.) West High is a door to a small room with an office, a bathroom and plenty of cupboard space. It's a familiar place for any West High student or athlete who has had an injury.
Most of the time, students can find Don Gleason inside the tiny training room office that is packed full with vintage West High gear, memories of past school years, medicine and supplies.
For 25 years, Gleason has been the head trainer at Billings West. He is a certified athletic trainer and a member of the National Athletic Trainers' Association. For his first six years at West High, Gleason was the head trainer and the head wrestling coach.
"I was trying to do both jobs, and it was becoming difficult to do a good job at both," Gleason said. "I knew I wanted to do athletic training long term, so the timing was right to stop coaching."
The other West High trainer is Mark Verlanic, who also is a member of the NATA. Both trainers are licensed by the state of Montana.
Gleason and Verlanic work with the sports medicine club, an after-school group for students interested in becoming athletic trainers. Students learn hands-on the necessary techniques of taking care of injuries.
Student trainers set up the training room, which requires getting all the supplies ready for Gleason and Verlanic before the athletes come in. They also are responsible for cleaning up the training room when they finish working with athletes. When the room is empty, they practice taping and taking care of injuries.
Most athletes come to the training room to get their ankles taped to prevent injury. Gleason and Verlanic teach the student trainers three variations of ankle taping. Before student trainers can train for the athletes, they must prove they can tape correctly and quickly.
At sports practices, the student trainers oversee the drills, get water for the athletes and fix any equipment that needs to be mended.
Even athletes do some of the training. In fact, the program usually trickles down to the players. In the past 10 years, wrestlers, track athletes and tri-sport athletes have been involved in the club.
Running the program can be expensive.
Along with purchasing tape, the staff orders latex-free prewrap, the protective layer that goes on the skin before the tape does; Ace bandages; and an assortment of other tapes and miscellaneous first aid items.
"Salaries and supplies cost about $21,000 a year," Gleason explained.
Most of the money for supplies comes from the fees that athletes pay at the beginning of every sport season.
At the beginning of every year, the staff orders 100 cases of regular, white athletic tape. That supply sometimes isn't enough.
"We sometimes run out in the spring and have to order as many as 10 more to finish the year," Gleason said.
Gleason explains that athletic training is harder than it looks, and he does it not for the money or anything else but the kids.
"Athletic training is not an easy career. It takes away hours and hours of family time and is very stressful and demanding. The greatest rewards are not monetary, but rather the joy of seeing an injured athlete come back and to see my student athletic trainers be able to help someone and feel appreciated and valued."
Gleason is very passionate about the sports medicine club and about his job, and for now, there seems to be no end in sight for the veteran trainer.
"I haven't thought about it yet. I like what I do and love the students. Someday, when I wake up and don't feel like going to work, I'll know it's time."
West High's athletic training program is revered as top-notch in Montana, but when it comes down to it, it's about the kids.
"My legacy is my students," said Gleason.
Alex Hartford is a recent graduate of Billings West High School in Billings, Mont.
Check out the ESPNHS archive for more ESPNHS stories.
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