Dec 20, 2017
Why I Became an AT
Larry Cooper

I have been asked many times what attracted me to the wonderful athletic training profession. The answer comes in two parts.

The first part goes back to the fall of my sophomore year of high school when I suffered a pretty significant injury. I was an athlete in high school, and wrestling was my primary focus — actually, it was an obsession. To have the activity that I loved taken away was nothing short of traumatic in my eyes. After the initial blow of the injury, I just could not stop thinking of ways to get back to the sport I loved.

Once I talked it over with my parents — probably ad nauseam — I decided to have my case history sent to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Medical Board for review. Before that could happen, I had to raise some money to pay for the service. I worked hard doing odd jobs in my neighborhood — such as cutting grass, trimming hedges, and waxing cars — doing anything to raise money so that I could get those medical experts to look at my scenario.

When I put the file in the mail, there was a sense of relief and anticipation. After a few long months passed, I finally got the document I was waiting for. The wait was worth it because the document stated that I could return to wrestling and also reviewed some possible complications. It was music to my ears, and it was time to get back to the sport I loved.

Fast-forward four years, and I was a sophomore in college, wrestling and majoring in business administration. My grades were good, but I was having a hard time picturing myself as a suit-and-tie, behind-a-desk type of person for the rest of my life. For those that know me well, this was a legitimate concern.

I was looking into changing majors, but none of them appealed to me. That was when my Uncle Jim mentioned this relatively new career called athletic training. He stated that it combined the athletic world with the medical world and thought it would be a nice fit for me. I did some research, applied to a few schools, and was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh. The athletic training program was housed in the School of Education, Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, so I took off to get the general education classes out of the way, get accepted into the School of Education, and start into athletic training.

During my time at Pitt, my field experience was at a local high school that had an outstanding athletic trainer… It was there that I discovered I wanted to work in the secondary school setting.

At Pitt, I could not have asked for a better program or situation. I worked with two future NATA Hall of Famers: Dave Perrin, PhD, ATC, who served as Program Director at the time, and Kip Smith, MEd, LAT, ATC, who was the Head Athletic Trainer. My classmates were wonderful, and many have gone on to do some special things in our profession.

Did I mention that the experiences were incredible? I had the opportunity to work the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls and care for world-class and Olympic-caliber athletes in the wrestling, track and field, and basketball worlds. While working football alone, I cared for more than 30 future professional players.

In addition, we had some outstanding physicians that showed us not only what a good clinician was but also what a good person was. T was when I knew that I found a profession I loved and absolutely knew that I had found my calling. I really wanted the opportunity to help someone in a similar way that the USOC physicians had done with my health issue just a few short years prior.

During my time at Pitt, my field experience was at a local high school that had an outstanding athletic trainer. He was an exceptional human being in the way he treated athletes, students, and parents. He was an awesome mentor who instilled a love for everyone, regardless of his or her ability, race or age. It was there that I discovered I wanted to work in the secondary school setting. I guess you could say I fell in love with this setting because I have never desired to go anywhere else.

My first position was at a high school in Arlington, Va., where I became the first certified athletic trainer in the county. This was a wonderful situation that enabled me to share my vision and grow the position of athletic trainer from the ground up. It also helped that my athletic director was a man who was heavily involved with the NFHS. His passion for student-athletes and his level of volunteerism was impressive, and he encouraged me to do the same thing. I got involved first at the local level and then at the state level. These experiences further solidified my love for the secondary school setting.

When I moved back to Pennsylvania in 1991 and took my current position at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, I got involved at the state level as the Membership Chair for the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society. This allowed me to meet the leaders in our state society and forge friendships that remain today. It also afforded me the opportunity to see how the Board of Directors operated, who were the influential members in the room, what the political environment was like, and how I could get involved at a different level.

Each meeting I attended, each conference call, each project team only solidified my desire to stay at the secondary school level and try to influence change. That change could be in policies to help protect student-athletes, change to educate parents and coaches, change to influence policy makers and legislators, or change in the way I approached my job. From there, I have remained dedicated to serving as an advocate for the secondary school athletic trainer.

Larry Cooper, MS, LAT, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa., where he also teaches health, physical education, and sports medicine classes. Since 2012, he has served as Chair of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers' Committee. Winner of a 2016 NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, 2015 T&C Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, and 2014 NATA Athletic Training Service Award, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers' Society Hall of Fame in 2014. Cooper can be reached at: [email protected].

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