Apr 9, 2018
High School Spotters

With the success of the NFL’s Eye in the Sky program and college teams increasingly adding injury spotters to their press boxes, high school athletic trainers may wonder about the cost to implement the idea at their level. At Atkins High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., the price tag was just $76.

Jonathan Reidy, LAT, ATC, who is contracted as Head Athletic Trainer at Atkins through Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC), spearheaded the program. Reidy started at Atkins in 2016, and after his first year on the sidelines for the Camels, he began to talk to others about ways to improve coverage of varsity football games.

“In the offseason, we threw around a lot of different ideas, and adding spotters was the top priority that came out,” he says. “Our motivation was to try to get ahead of the curve and to see if this works at the high school level.”

From there, athletic and district administrators came together to talk through the benefits and concerns. After consulting with Jeremy Stevens, MS, LAT, ATC, an independent spotter for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the school granted official approval.

At the same time, Reidy was discussing logistics with WFBMC. The hospital’s contract with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools provides Atkins (and the other high schools in the district) with a per-diem assistant athletic trainer, a team physician, two residents, and an athletic training college student to assist Reidy at football games. To put the spotter program in place, it was decided that the two residents would split time between being on the sidelines and watching from the press box, changing their positions at halftime.

Without having to pay the spotters out of pocket, Reidy’s faced minimal costs. “We bought six radios so that each member of the medical staff had a dedicated unit,” he says. “We spent a total of $76.”

The first year of the program was a complete success from many perspectives. Most importantly, it ensured at least one sports medical professional was watching the action at all times.

“Before we had the spotters, if I turned to tape somebody and my assistant was also tending to an athlete, there might be no one looking at the field,” Reidy says. “That was always a concern. Now, we have someone always watching, and we don’t feel like we’re missing anything.

“If they see a possible injury, they radio down and I tell an official I need to remove a player for a medical evaluation,” he continues. “The referee stops the game, and we get the player out.”

While the main purpose is to look for concussions, the residents report any potential injury. In addition, their vantage point has been helpful in determining the severity of injuries.

“We found that the spotters helped us limit over-diagnosing, which is common at the high school level,” Reidy says. “Based on a spotter’s input, we are often able to put somebody back in play quickly. Our top priority is our kids’ safety, but we’re not here to hold a kid out when there’s no reason to. The extra set of eyes provides one more piece of input into that formula.”

Going forward into the 2018 season, Reidy is hoping to expand the program to j.v. games. He is also talking to others at WFBMC to determine whether residents are the best personnel to put in the spotter’s role.

“We want to make sure the residents are getting a valuable experience,” said Reidy. “They come to games to get on-the-field experience, so we may reconsider putting them up in the box.”

Keeping the residents on the field would require finding qualified replacements for them in the press box. While such a change could add costs to the current low-budget program, it could also free up availability for the residents to attend junior varsity games.

“During Thursday j.v. games, we typically have myself, my assistant, and our student. We may or may not get a resident that night, so it would be great to have them,” said Reidy. “However, if we decide to use different personnel to spot injuries, we will need to make sure they have adequate training so they know what they’re looking for.”

Regardless of who actually does the spotting next season, Reidy wants to ensure that his program continues to evolve. “I’m considering investing in binoculars to give the spotter a better vantage point,” he says. “At the high school level, we don’t have numerous TV angles that we can look at like they do in college and the NFL, so binoculars might be a great addition for next year.”

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.

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