Newton, Alcovy and Eastside's coaches and players took the spotlight of Friday Night Lights as the Georgia High School football season got under way this past weekend.
But all the credit doesn't go entirely to those in the Eagles, Rams and Tigers uniforms and emblem-laden coach's polo shirts. Some of it goes to the Newton Medical Center President Jim Weadick and the Newton County Board of Education for a partnership reached on Aug. 14.
On that date, more than two weeks before the start of the 2012 season, the BOE voted 5-0 to provide a certified athletic trainer to each school under the guidance of team physician Dr. Renee Riley of Georgia Orthopedics and Sports Medicine.
A certified trainer being on hand at each game, compared to trainers provided by the schools themselves in the past, proved a big advantage both during the games and in the week that now follows.
"Having Dr. Riley and her PA Vicki Porter was a much needed thing Friday," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said.
Eastside had players go down with a knee injury, a hamstring injury and a concussion, and the medical staff was nearby to tend to the injuries and relate the diagnosis to both the player and Hurst.
The same thing occurred during Alcovy's game Thursday night as a Tiger went down with an injury that was quickly seen by Dr. Riley.
In the past, an injury would require a coach to see what was wrong with the particular player but Thursday and Friday, it was a certified doctor able to offer a more precise answer.
"She can diagnose," Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman said. "It keeps the game going with a pretty good flow. If it would have been me trying to diagnose it, who knows."
Not only were Thursday and Friday night's injuries preliminarily diagnosed on the field but the players were tended to more quickly than in the past.
"We have always had medical personnel on the sideline, but being that they are connected to the hospital directly sure is a plus," Hurst sad. "They can give a preliminary diagnosis on the field, and then early the next week, get them in to the hospital if needed for more evaluation."
The athletic trainers work with the players throughout the week tending to concussions, minor injuries and heat exhaustion-type symptoms at practices. They also offer treatments such as taped ankles and muscle cramp relief.
The trainers also make necessary decisions regarding the need for treatment, evaluation by a physician and how fast they can return to play. The office of Georgia Orthopedics and Sports Medicine is also available to evaluate an athlete - usually within 24 hours.
"The health and safety of our students is a number one priority," said NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews in a recent press release. "An athletic trainer program is much needed and long overdue so it goes without saying that we appreciate Mr. Weadick and Dr. Riley for offering this program to our district free of charge. This gesture is indicative of the support Newton Medical has provided our district over the years. Our local hospital is definitely an outstanding partner in education."
The trainers have not only already proven valuable to coaches and players but parents know that their sons are in well-trained and capable hands.
"It is a great blessing to have Dr. Riley and her staff at our games and working closely with our program,"
Newton coach Cortez Allen said. "She has been working with our kids for about three weeks now and I know our parents are thankful and so am I."