Jan 29, 2015
A Sharp Facility

By Nate Dougherty

Herb Rhea, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Jenks (Okla.) High School, talks about the health and fitness center that was recently constructed at his high school. The facility, which contains an underwater treadmill, also houses a physical therapy clinic run by a local hospital.

If you take a late morning tour of the Robert L. Sharp Health and Fitness Center at Jenks (Okla.) High School, you might be surprised at who you find there–a 50-year-old rehabbing his ankle on an underwater treadmill or a grandmother working to improve her rheumatoid arthritis. The three story, 33,000 square foot facility, which opened in October 2006, has benefited from a partnership with a local hospital that’s allowed members of the community and Jenks student-athletes to work side by side on cutting edge equipment.

Herb Rhea, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Jenks, came up with the idea to partner with nearby St. Francis Health System after observing a good relationship between orthopedic doctors and athletic trainers while in graduate school at the University of Virginia. “At Virginia, the doctors would come in for a couple hours each day and conduct physical therapy sessions, which gave the grad students a chance to work on some different patients and expand their experiences,” Rhea says. “As we were building, I approached St. Francis and asked if they wanted use of the facility when we were not using it, and they jumped on the chance. It was a good situation for them because it allowed them to expand their presence to south Tulsa.”

From 7 a.m. until noon each weekday, patients from St. Francis rehab in a space rented by the hospital. The clinic is headed by a physical therapist who helps Rhea on the sidelines during Jenks football games. Aside from allowing the community to benefit from the school’s equipment, the partnership also gives Rhea and the physical therapist a chance to gain experience from each other.

“She helps me and I help her,” Rhea says. “I’m not as well versed in physical therapy as she is and she’s not as well versed in treatment as I am, so we’re always learning from each other.”

Once plans were in place, taking the facility from blueprint to brick and mortar wasn’t too challenging, Rhea says. The school bonded for most of the $5 million price tag, and when the community understood how the new equipment and fitness space would benefit Jenks students, it was an easy sell.

“If we have an opportunity to do things that are a cut above and give our kids an opportunity to be successful, we’re going to go for it,” Rhea says. “We couldn’t have paid for this facility by ourselves, but that attitude about giving our students the best really spreads, allowing people in the community to stop thinking about restrictions and help give their kids the best, too.”

The health and fitness center takes up the second floor of the building. The first floor houses football locker rooms, public restrooms, and a fitness center more than three times larger than the school’s previous space–60 student-athletes can perform lifts at one time, compared to only nine before. The third floor contains offices for the athletic department, conference rooms, and the Jenks Sports Hall of Fame.

When it came to the facility’s equipment, the center certainly benefited from Rhea’s lofty aspirations. Although the project initially started as a way to update the school’s aging facilities and keep pace with improvements in neighboring districts, it quickly grew into more as he looked beyond what the average high school was doing.

“As I thought more about what would be best to keep our student-athletes healthy, I realized it meant getting an electrical ultrasound machine, more ice compression units, and more rehab equipment,” Rhea says. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves in any aspect, just find those things that would make the biggest impact and go for them.”

Rhea’s aspirations also led to the crown jewel of the facility, a hydrotherapy area featuring four whirlpools and an underwater treadmill–the only one if its kind in a high school, Rhea says. After researching a number of different pieces of hydrotherapy equipment, Rhea says the underwater treadmill stood out because of its possible use for both student-athletes and older patients in the clinic.

“We often have kids with stress fractures, and there are so many more things they could do on an underwater treadmill than any other piece of equipment,” Rhea says. “We also talked to our physical therapist about what would be best, and she agreed that this would be most beneficial to the largest amount of people.”

As a result of hydrotherapy, Jenks student-athletes and St. Francis clinic patients have seen dramatic improvements during their rehabs. “I’ve got a soccer player who pulled the muscle off the top of his hip and the pool has been a great tool for him,” Rhea says. “He was able to progress out of crutches in a much shorter time because of it. There is also an older lady with rheumatoid arthritis who works at the school, and she uses the pool four times a week. Her rheumatologist was a little skeptical at first, but now he’s amazed at what she’s able to do. Because this is one of the few places she can exercise without pain, she says she feels much better all the time.”

Rhea says schools that want to give their student-athletes the benefit of top of the line equipment shouldn’t let a price tag or skepticism from the community or any other restriction scare them off of it. “Don’t limit yourself in what you’re thinking about because as soon as you start to come up with reasons why you can’t, you won’t,” Rhea says. “I dreamed about what this facility could be, and once some key people shared that vision, we went out and did it.”

Nate Dougherty is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

Shop see all »

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
website development by deyo designs
Interested in receiving the print or digital edition of Training & Conditioning?

Subscribe Today »

Be sure to check out our sister sites: