Not to be confused with farmers or long-haul truck drivers, Alma athletic trainer Patti Webb is up with the chickens and roosters long before most people have had their first cup of coffee.
As Alma was prepping for its second week of two-a-day football drills back in August, Webb’s 16 1/2-hour day began at 5 a.m. Such is the life of an athletic trainer.
Almost as important as the quarterback himself, Webb gives modern day football coaches something assistant coach Jason Reeves didn’t have when he was playing less than 20 years ago — someone to monitor the brutal August heat and concussions. Concussions have become a serious concern with today’s athletes.
And it’s not just football, either. Last spring, Southside soccer star Sydney Walker was sidelined with a concussion.
“I can’t ever remember anyone ever talking about concussions,” said Reeves, a former Alma player. “If you got your bell rung, you would shake it off and get back in there. There was never any talk of concussions — period.”
Not any more.
“Our coaches know the signs,” Webb said. “Plus, we educate our parents and we have a meeting before the season to discuss concussions.”
First-year Alma coach Doug Loughridge implemented a series of events to cut down on concussions by teaching tackling techniques and having players strengthen their necks. He also doesn’t allow players to take their helmets off. Not even in the heat of a late morning August practice.
Stronger necks help players avoid whiplash that comes with violent tackles or blindside hits.
“We buy the best helmets out there — price is not an option,” Loughridge said. “Also, we work on neck-strengthening. Whenever you get tired, you get sloppy, and we’re teaching tackling techniques. If you’re tired, and you’re hanging your head down, you’re going to get hurt.”
“We stress on making form tackles,” senior Alex Burris said. “It’s a lot easier to stay away from concussions if you have the right form.”
Webb oversees 10 athletic trainers — seven in high school and three in junior high — while teaching sports medicine. Alma is one of six schools in the state to feature sports medicine in its curriculum.
“They don’t take anything off the players, they’re out there to help them,” Webb said. “The players realize they’re out to help them. They (trainers) see the players at their worst; they see them puking, with blood, and falling out.”
Alma coaches — who are required by the Arkansas Activities Association to take online courses to prevent concussions — don’t mind trainers squirting water into their players’ mouths. It’s a different world from which most coaches went through as players.
“When I played, we took one break over by the old concession stand and we were given one cup of water,” Reeves said. “Now, they have access to water all the time.”
“I think we have made tremendous strides,” Webb said. “There is so much more now that we focus on. We make (players) take a computerized test. It’s not an intelligence test, it’s mainly a reaction test.”
Each test last about half an hour to 45 minutes, Webb said.
“If they get a concussion during the season, we’ll re-test them to see where they’re at,” Webb explained. “We’ll send that information to their physician, and that will determine when they’re coming back. It’s just another tool to help with our athletes’ safety.”
“It’s a big load off of me, because being in Charleston we didn’t have a trainer,” Loughridge said. “During the week, we might have someone there at practice one day and then during Friday nights we had a physician there; somebody to volunteer their time to be there on the sideline.
“With her (Patti), we have someone to watch the kids and teach the kids the signs of a concussion.”
Loughridge has learned that not every kid splattered on the football field is the victim of a concussion.
“Concussions depend on the communication with the kids and the parents,” Loughridge said. “I’ve had kids play all the way through the third quarter and come to me and not remember, because they did not communicate with me. Unless a kid gets up and walks to the other team’s huddle, you don’t know something is wrong.
“When you’re in the heat of the game, or even at practice, you’ve got blinders on. With her (Patti) and her assistants, they’re trained to look for things.”
“All the technique we do is to prevent them from using their head so that they don’t get a concussion,” Reeves said. “In the spring we had no concussion issues and we’re really anxious once we get into the season to see where we’re at.”