Jan 29, 2015
Mark White, Southeast Guilford High School, N.C.

For Mark White, MS, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Southeast Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C., the phrase “all in a day’s work” barely covers everything he packs into 24 hours. As a teacher of health, physical education, and introduction to sports medicine, White starts his day with education and ends with athletics.

For the fall and winter sport seasons, White’s primary after-school duties revolve around athletic training. In the spring, he is Head Coach of the boys’ golf team. And through all the seasons, White serves as the President of the North Carolina Athletic Trainers’ Association (NCATA), a position he was recently re-elected to for a second term.

A 20-year veteran of high school athletics, White graduated from Appalachian State University in 1985 with a major in physical education and a minor in athletic training. He’s been employed by the same school system for 21 years, and at Southeast Guilford for 15 years.

As President of the NCATA, White is pushing a proposal that would mandate athletic training positions at every high school in the state. One of White’s proudest accomplishments is the creation of the soon-to-be-built NCATA Hall of Fame, and his fingerprints are also all over the association’s much-improved Web site and monthly newsletter.

Here, White talks about what it takes to juggle all of his responsibilities, including raising a family, and provides his take on the future of high school sports medicine in North Carolina. He also shares his experience of responding to an athlete who was under cardiac arrest.

What do you like about working in the high school setting?

The kids we work with and their parents are usually very appreciative of everything we do. And that makes for a really nice environment. I like that I work full-time at the school, which means I’m there all day and can better stay on top of things. If a kid is injured, I can see them the next morning before classes begin to start treatment right away.

An advantage the high school level has over college is that high school athletic trainers go home every night and don’t work many weekends. It’s pretty much a five-day-a-week job. I bust my tail to get everything taken care of during the week but I rarely have to work Saturdays and Sundays.

How do you foster a good working relationship with the coaches at your high school?

Being around as long as I have, they value my opinion. One of the keys to getting them behind me is having a history of correct injury assessments. If you continually make assessments that a doctor or MRI substantiate, coaches trust that you know what you’re talking about.

How do you describe your communication style with coaches?

I’m laid-back and pretty quiet. I see myself as a coach’s athletic trainer. If a kid is able to play safely, we’ll let them. But if they’re not able to play without doing more damage, I’ll explain very clearly why they aren’t ready. We get kids back fairly quickly and I think coaches are more supportive and easier to work with when they see that you’re working hard to make that happen.

Why do you coach golf?

It keeps me refreshed. Family time is increased with coaching golf, because when the sun goes down, you can’t play golf anymore and you get to go home earlier than you would as an athletic trainer who regularly covers night events.

How do you adjust your athletic training schedule when golf season starts?

The last five years we’ve had phys. ed. student-teachers at our school who were also studying to be athletic trainers. After they graduated, we hired them as full-time teachers and so they handle most of the sports medicine duties in the spring. I still do some Friday night coverage as an athletic trainer so I’m not completely out of it—I’m kind of the backup plan.

How has working with parents changed over the years?

Parents today are more gung-ho about their kids playing every game and getting noticed by colleges, and sometimes those parents can make it difficult for the athletic trainer when their kid gets injured. They’ll push hard for you to clear their kid to return to play, even if he or she is not ready. They might tell me, “My son has to play this game because there’s going to be a college coach in the stands.” Well, it’s not going to benefit the athlete if the college coaches are watching him when he’s only playing at 75 percent. You want that kid to be seen when he’s 100 percent, not hurting. I always try to explain that to parents by giving them the big-picture scenario.

In 2000 you were covering a home lacrosse game when a visiting player went into cardiac arrest. What went through your mind as you helped resuscitate him and ultimately save his life?

Everything went right for that kid that night. Unbeknownst to me, the referee, who I had never met before, was also an anesthesiologist. When we got to the kid on the field, he looked at me and said, “We’re going to have to do CPR. Do you know how to do it?” I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” So he started doing the respirations and I started doing chest compressions. I just concentrated on doing my part and keeping a good rhythm. We did CPR for about 15 minutes before EMS arrived with a defibrillator and he regained a pulse. What went through my mind was making sure I did the right things.

What did you learn from that experience?

It reminded me of the importance of being prepared and also the importance of being focused during the annual re-certification process athletic trainers go through. Even though that training can seem kind of tedious, you need to practice it regularly so it all comes back when you need it. In that instance on the lacrosse field, there was never a thought in my mind that I couldn’t do the procedures correctly. I felt comfortable that we were not going to lose that kid that night.

Did that experience change your perspective on having defibrillators easily accessible?

I didn’t have any at the time, and now I have two. Within nine months of the incident, we raised enough money to buy our first one. This past fall we got another one. One unit stays in our athletic training room and one stays in our school’s front office.

With the technology as inexpensive as it is now, it’s really not an option to not have one. It’s a piece of equipment you hope you never have to use, but it’s there when you need it. I tell people that the first time I will use it will probably be on an official, coach, parent, or someone in the stands—people who tend to be more at risk.

How do you prioritize your workload?

At our school, academics come first for everybody—student-athletes, coaches, and athletic trainers. My athletic training is pretty much secondary and I have to find time for it because in the big picture, I was hired to be a teacher and I receive a supplement to be the athletic trainer.

Time is what you make it. I do not set out and plan my day because I never know what awaits me when I hit the front door each day. I am very good at multi-tasking and prioritizing which issues are most pressing.

Six of your former students are work as certified athletic trainers. How do you integrate students interested in sports medicine into your day-to-day duties?

I don’t have those types of students very often, but when I do, I bring them along slowly. I teach a basic sports medicine class and if I have a student who’s really interested, I’ll let them shadow me on the field. They start by handling hydration and making sure ice is available on the field. As they progress, they’ll also do some treatments in the athletic training room like apply heat pads and some minor taping.

What are you most proud of during your time as President of the North Carolina Athletic Trainers’ Association?

In my first term, Appalachian State University was building a new basketball arena, and we secured space in it for our hall of fame. It was a long, drawn-out process, but we finally have an official hall of fame spot at ASU.

What’s the most pressing issue facing sports medicine in North Carolina?

With athletic training education programs evolving to include even more of an emphasis on sports medicine, most college students don’t have time to pursue a teaching certificate. As a result, there are going to be fewer and fewer people like me who have dual credentials as a teacher and athletic trainer getting into the high school setting.

We want to make athletic training a stand-alone profession at the high school level and put a licensed person in every high school. People aren’t going to want to work all day teaching then spend all night covering games or in the athletic training room, which is what I was brought up doing.

Right now we’re in initial talks with people in the state Department of Public Instruction to get their feelings on things. One of our goals is to make sure the position doesn’t count against a principal’s allotment of non-faculty positions.

What is your advice for recent grads on getting started in the field?

You have to get your feet wet and explore every avenue and setting, then decide what suits you best and what your goals are. Look at the big picture. Where do you want to be in 15 or 20 years? Athletic training education has changed, and so have the work settings. There are a lot of options once kids get out of college, like physician extenders and extreme sports. You have to find your niche.

I would also urge students to check out the high school setting and see what it’s all about. I just had an intern who didn’t think she would like the high school level, then after her time with me, she changed her mind. Although the time constraints at this level are great, it can be pretty rewarding.

How do you integrate your family into all that you do?

Family definitely needs to come first and you need to manage your time the best you can to make that happen. I’ve been married for 18 years and have a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter. My wife is a registered nurse so she’s pretty busy too. We have a great relationship and encourage each other to do our own thing.

When our daughter came along, it changed my work perspective a little. I like to be home more—I don’t always like to stay the extra half-hour after practice that I used to. I like to get home so I can read my daughter a bedtime story before she goes to sleep.

It also helps that my daughter is old enough that she can come with me when I cover events. She rides around with me on the Gator and stands next to me on the sidelines. As she gets older I foresee her spending a whole lot more time with me while I’m working.

PROFILE: Mark White

  • Head Athletic Trainer, Head Golf Coach, Southeast Guilford High School, Greensboro, N.C.
  • President, North Carolina Athletic Trainers’ Association: www.ncathletictrainer.org
  • “Right now we’re working on legislation that would establish a certified athletic trainer position at every high school in the state. A lot of people in the profession believe that as a teacher and athletic trainer you’re doing two jobs but only getting paid for one.”

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