Most Valuable Athletic Trainer 2015

May 16, 2015

The following article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Training & Conditioning.

Announcing our 2015 Winner: Larry Cooper, Penn-Trafford High School, Harrison City, Pa.

By R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at: [email protected]

“No matter what you choose to do, leave it better than you found it.”

That’s the message Larry Cooper’s parents imparted on him growing up in Western Pennsylvania, and it’s the mantra that has guided his journey as Head Athletic Trainer at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa. It’s also a big reason why Cooper, MS, LAT, ATC, donates countless hours to association work at the national, state, and regional levels and works hard to connect with the students in his sports medicine classes at Penn-Trafford.

His dedication to improving the experiences of Penn-Trafford students and athletes, along with his advocacy for athletic training in the scholastic setting, is why Cooper is the recipient of Training & Conditioning’s 2015 Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, sponsored by School Health, to honor professionals at the high school level.

Cooper’s nomination came from his two Assistant Athletic Trainers at Penn-Trafford, Gina Linn, LAT, ATC, and Jennifer Smith, MS, LAT, ATC, as well as Jason Erlandson, MS, LAT, ATC, Athletic Trainer at Montoursville (Pa.) Area High School. He was a finalist for the award last year, and his nominators speak of him in the highest terms.

“Larry is the consummate professional who has given so much to athletic training. What’s even more impressive is that he continues to give and remains a staunch supporter of the profession locally, in the state, regionally, and nationally,” wrote Gregory Janik, MS, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at King’s College and a past president of the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society (PATS), Cooper’s nominator from a year ago.

Now in his 33rd year as an athletic trainer and his 24th at Penn-Trafford, Cooper has compiled a long list of accomplishments and honors while developing one of the most respected high school athletic training programs in the country. Since 2008, Cooper has been a member of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee (SSATC), taking over as Chair in 2012. Over the years, he has helped author a number of NATA position statements and is a frequent presenter at national and regional conferences. In 2014, he received the NATA Athletic Training Service Award and was inducted into the PATS Athletic Training Hall of Fame. And in 2015, Penn-Trafford became the first school in Pennsylvania honored with the NATA Safe School Award.

As chair of the SSATC, Cooper is able to pursue one of his passions: promoting athletic training at the scholastic level and improving the work environments for his peers. “Larry has always said, ‘My goal is for the secondary school setting to be a destination, not a stepping stone,’” wrote Linn, Smith, and Erlandson in their nomination.

So why is the high school setting so special to Cooper? “My life as a professional and a parent has been fulfilling primarily because of where I work,” he says. “The people that I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had at the secondary school level have been phenomenal. I don’t think young athletic trainers always see the big picture or understand how their work setting affects their life. They only think about climbing the professional ladder.”

Part of Cooper’s advocacy mission is communicating the need for more athletic trainers in high schools, starting with his own. The key to making an effective case, he says, is quantifying the value of athletic trainers for administrators and other decision-makers using hard data. It’s a strategy that has served him well at Penn-Trafford, which has 1,700 students, 1,100 of whom participate in athletics. There, Cooper has successfully lobbied district administrators twice to add full-time athletic training positions.

“We keep data on injuries, visits, and how much time an athlete loses to an injury,” he says. “This was valuable in showing administrators what athletic trainers did and what we brought to the table. Though I still needed to stand up and make a case for getting more staff, the data spoke for itself. If you can provide evidence of what you’re dealing with on a daily and weekly basis, you have a better chance of getting additional help.”

Cooper has shared his data-driven approach on the national level. With the NATA, he helped the SSATC design the Secondary Schools Value Model, an interactive tool that helps athletic trainers use statistics to compile quantitative value arguments they can share with administrators and school boards.

Locally, Cooper takes a more grassroots approach to spreading the word about the value of athletic trainers. He has always been quick to roll up his sleeves and stump for athletic training positions at neighboring schools.

“Many athletic administrators, coaches, and athletic trainers in my district have asked me for help in getting athletic training positions created—or saved,” says Cooper. “So I’ve spoken at a number of school board meetings, provided statistics, and written letters to add and retain athletic trainers. I’m proud to say that 98 percent of the high schools in our region now have an athletic trainer on staff.”

As much as Cooper relishes giving back to his profession, it’s working with athletes that makes athletic training at the high school level a labor of love. “The best part by far is the relationships that I’ve developed along the way,” he says. “I’ve loved helping injured athletes come back and achieve their goals. If they want to rehab and get back on the field and become a state champion, that’s my goal. If they just want to make it back for the last game of their senior year, that’s my goal, too. This approach has enabled my staff and I to better connect with injured athletes because they know we are here for them and that we’ll do what’s best for them.”

When treating and rehabbing athletes, Cooper’s philosophy is to get to know them and learn what makes them tick. It’s a point that became more illuminated when working with his three daughters, all of whom were athletes at Penn-Trafford.

“Being an athletic trainer for your children is special, not only because of the time you get to spend with them after school and watching them compete, but because you also get a comprehensive look into why they may not be feeling well or performing their best,” says Cooper. “This, in turn, has made me more compassionate when working with other athletes and prompted me to give more consideration to external factors affecting their lives.

“For example, with injury evaluations, I’ve learned to take a step back to consider a broader spectrum,” he continues. “Instead of just concentrating on the area of injury, I take a harder look at the total person. Kids have busy lives these days, and I learned that I needed to take that more into account.”

Another thing that has helped Cooper get better acquainted with his athletes is time spent with them during the school day. In addition to his athletic training duties, he teaches health education, phys ed, and sports medicine classes. “Teaching allows me to get to know athletes in a different way and develop relationships with students who aren’t athletes,” Cooper says. “There are plenty of non-athletes who make a difference on campus, and I enjoy getting to know them.”

In their nomination letter, Linn, Smith, and Erlandson called attention to the tremendous impact Cooper’s sports medicine class has had on his students, noting that more than 40 of them have entered the medical profession. Cooper says seeing the fruits of his labor has been extremely satisfying.

“I love going to the NATA convention and regional meetings and seeing former students who are now certified athletic trainers,” he says. “It’s very rewarding to know I helped put them on a path toward doing something they love.”

For years, that path often included Penn-Trafford’s athletic training student aide program, but this year will be its last. Aligning his stance with the SSATC’s desire to reduce the role of student athletic training aides, Cooper hopes to raise awareness about the importance of having sufficient certified athletic training coverage. “With changes to the student aide program being recommended by the NATA, I felt I needed to walk the walk,” Cooper says. “I will now focus my mentoring efforts on my sports medicine class. Students will be able to watch how I rehab athletes in the athletic training room, but they will no longer be allowed to shadow me while I cover games.”

With his myriad responsibilities, Cooper’s schedule is as packed as the day is long. Arriving at school between 7 and 7:15 a.m., he typically doesn’t return home until practices and games are completed, which can be as late as 9 p.m. Combine that with raising three kids and his committee work, and it’s hard not to wonder: How does he pull it all off without missing a beat?

“When I go to bed, I’m out before my head hits the pillow,” Cooper says. “Plus, I’ve accepted that having something truly special in your life can require sacrifice. For me, the sacrifice is not watching TV or laying around at night. When I’m home, I’m spending my time with my wife and kids. When they go to sleep, I do NATA, PATS, or Penn-Trafford work.

“I’ve learned to prioritize my responsibilities, and I try to maximize every moment,” he continues. “It also helps that I have great co-workers who make my job easier and a wife who is a saint—she has provided unwavering support and understanding every step of the way.”

Cooper’s ability to strike a balance between his personal and professional lives is something he’s worked hard at. “I work so I can live—I don’t live to work,” he says. “The quality of life at the high school level is unbeatable, and a big part of that is having time off in the summer to spend with my family.

“I know that I’m going to be extremely busy during the school year, and we aren’t going anywhere, so I try to save as much money as I can,” Cooper continues. “Then in June and July, we can take a long family vacation. We have traveled around the country and camped in 48 states. You don’t get to do that when you work in other settings.”

After more than 30 years, several high-level committees, and countless athletes, Cooper says there are a number of concrete goals that have—and will continue to—guide his path. “My mission never changes,” he says. “In addition to promoting and improving the secondary school setting, I’m constantly looking to make myself a little better, whether that’s as a clinician, teacher, or co-worker. My assistant athletic trainers and I always strive to maintain a high level of health care for our student-athletes and develop a program that’s viewed as a model for the secondary school level.”

 

FINALISTS

The following athletic trainers are finalists for this year’s Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award.

FRANK MASTRANGELO

In the Boston area, Frank Mastrangelo is well-known for two things. In October 2013, he saved the life of a high school soccer player who went into cardiac arrest, thanks to having both an AED and a detailed emergency action plan in place. And he wore a football helmet while running the Boston Marathon in 2011 to promote concussion awareness. But on a daily basis, “He does his job in a quiet fashion and looks for no fanfare,” wrote nominator Nairi Melkonian, MS, ATC, LAT, CSCS, Head Athletic Trainer and Assistant Athletic Director at Austin Prep School in Reading, Mass., and a finalist for the award herself last year.

Mastrangelo, LAT, ATC, EMT, CMAA, who serves as Head Athletic Trainer and Assistant Director of Athletics at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., has been honored with the 2011 Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association Henry Schein Award and as the 2013 Athletic Trainers of Massachusetts Athletic Trainer of the Year. “Frank was one of the first to use neurocognitive testing and implement a school-wide concussion policy among high schools in the area, and he recently put new heat protocols in place at his school that include use of a rectal thermometer,” wrote Melkonian. “And Frank is loved by all—especially his athletes.”

 

ROBERT OGAR

From coaches to colleagues, six individuals penned letters of support for Robert Ogar, Head Athletic Trainer at Catholic Central High School, in Novi, Mich. “He is always working to improve his ability to care for our athletes,” wrote Thomas Mach, the school’s veteran Head Football Coach. “He makes our jobs as coaches easier because of his dedication and assumption of responsibility.”

A member of several NATA and Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society (MATS) committees over the years, Ogar, ATC, was honored as the MATS Athletic Trainer of the Year in 2002 and was the first athletic trainer named a Fellow in the Academy of Sports Dentistry for his work on developing better mouth guards for athletes. “Robert is more than an athletic trainer for the school. He is an advocate, cheerleader, and mentor for all of us,” wrote Jefferey Michaelson, MD, Team Physician at Catholic Central.

 

JAMES PORTER

When the state of Nevada gained athletic training licensure in 2005, one of the leaders of the charge was James Porter. And he continues to do all he can to promote the profession and safety issues in his state, serving on the Nevada Board of Athletic Trainers. He worked with the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association to create heat acclimatization guidelines and assisted the Nevada Board of Education in writing sports medicine standards.

Porter, MS, LAT, ATC, is Regional Coordinator for Select Physical Therapy Athletic Training Services in Las Vegas, overseeing 45 athletic trainers, and serves as Head Athletic Trainer at Cimarron Memorial High School in Las Vegas. He has also been Medical Coordinator for USA Wrestling for 33 years. “It is my privilege to have witnessed what he has done over the last decade for the athletic training community in Nevada as my boss and mentor,” wrote nominator Gus Fukuda, LAT, ATC, CSCS, Head Athletic Trainer at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

 

HONORABLE MENTION

The following athletic trainers received honorable mention in the awards program.

 

Marijean Ballard, ATC, Marbury High School, Deatsville, Ala.

Nik Berger, MS, ATC, Centerville High School, Dayton, Ohio

Troy Bowman, ATC, Columbia Falls (Mont.) High School

Mark Bramble, ATC, Marlboro (N.J.) High School

Wendy Drysdale, ATC, St. George’s School, Middletown, R.I.

David Fricke, ATC, West High School, Waterloo, Iowa

Dustin Hopfe, ATC, Wooster High School, Reno, Nev.

Alex Melendez, MS, ATC, Stuyvesant High School, New York City

Lance Michel, ATC, Hamilton High School, Chandler, Ariz.

Chris Moss, DHSc, ATC, South Newton High School, Kentland, Ind.

Dawn Myers, ATC, Locust Grove (Ga.) High School

Melissa Nelson, MS, ATC, Northern Valley Regional High School, Old Tappan, N.J.

Chris Polsinelli, ATC, Notre Dame Preparatory School, Pontiac, Mich.

Keith Shireman, ATC, Batesville (Ark.) High School

Amy Wheeler, MS, ATC, CES, Beavercreek (Ohio) High School

Kyle Wiebesiek, ATC, Harrisburg (S.D.) High School

Marc Wysocki, MS, ATC, EMT-B, CES, Berkshire School, Sheffield, Mass.

Sandy Zettlemoyer, MS, ATC, CES, Mechanicsburg (Pa.) High School

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