Jason Miller speaks to members of the New Hope Trojans football team. Miller is the athletic trainer for both New Hope and Columbus High School football teams. The teams play each other Friday. Photo by: Zach Odom/Dispatch Staff
September 4, 2014 10:58:51 AM
Jason Miller reached into his black bag and pulled out another roll of white athletic tape.
The heat was beating down at Aberdeen High School's stadium, but Miller's red 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup was parked in the shade. A New Hope football player was seated in the truck bed; Miller wrapped his wrist and thumb. A steady line of 4 to 5 players gathered near the truck, waiting their turn to become battle ready.
"A lot of this, thank goodness, is preventative," Miller said, now wrapping up a Trojan's ankles. "Anything we can do to prevent them from hurting themselves or having some type of injury, we try to do."
Miller goes through nearly 20 rolls of tape before every game. It is his job to help prevent injuries, and, when injuries come along, treat them.
Dealing with injury
Injuries seem to be all one hears about in prep sports these days, especially with football. Awareness and concern have skyrocketed, and the biggest focus has been on concussions. In 2012, 3.8 million concussions were reported in high school sports, 47 percent of which were recorded in football. That's double what was reported in 2002.
These numbers have drawn attention and even legislative action. Mississippi became the final state in the union to pass a Youth Sports Concussion Law on January 30, 2014, under the name House Bill 48. The law requires athletes and parents receive education about concussions, that anyone who is concussed or may have sustained a brain injury be immediately removed from competition and that an athlete must be cleared by a licensed health care provider before they can return to play.
Miller is the first face many local athletes see in their woozie, concussed state. An athletic trainer with Rehab At Work sports medicine clinics, he is the official athletic trainer for both Columbus and New Hope high schools. Injury wise, he said he sees about 70 athletes weekly; in total, with taping and other preventative work, Miller, 34, sees about 300 young men and women every week.
So far this fall, Miller said he has seen four concussions between the two schools.
In accordance with the Youth Sports Concussion Law, Miller said that all athletes who may have been concussed see a doctor that day or the next morning. Only then does the return to play process begins. Two to seven days after the concussion, if they player shows no concussion symptoms, Miller will have them walk at a rapid pace for 15 to 30 minutes. Twenty-four hours after that, provided no symptoms are felt, Miller will put the athlete through some running and sports specific training. If no concussion symptoms are recorded in the following 24 hours, the player will return to a doctor who will examine him or her and sign off on his or her return to play.
Concussions are the big, scary, talked-about problem, but in the early weeks of prep sports, heat is the real enemy of athletes' health. In the opening week of football season, Miller said 10 players went down with cramps at the West Lowndes-Montgomery City game in week one. As the Aberdeen-New Hope game wore on last Friday night, Miller pulled out all the stops to keep the cramps at bay.
"Hey! Make sure you get some fluids," Miller belted as he paced down the sideline. "Drink! Drink!"
Miller is a part of the team at New Hope, and he said that he feels the same way about Columbus High. Alumni in the stands call out greetings and come down to shake his hand. The first injury Miller dealt with all night was when a former player came down to the field and showed him a finger he had cut cleaning his gun. Miller patched him up.
In the third quarter with 6:02 left on the clock, a couple of Trojan defensive backs begin to cramp up. Miller sprinted out to the concessions stand. He returned with Gatorade and French's Yellow Mustard Packets.
"Mustard and pickle juice works really well on cramps," he said, running past to give condiments to cramping Trojans. "I'm not sure why mustard works, but it does."
"Oh, I hope this works," said senior Javonte Ellis, who made a face as he sucked down the mustard packet.
Miller said that it's possible that mustard just makes the players want to drink more fluids to get the taste out of their mouth. It's something he picked up in his 14 years of experience. In those years, he said he's ruined a few pair of shorts from leaving mustard packets in his pockets and those packets explode in the washer. Miller got his degree in sports medicine from Western Alabama and a masters in physical education from Delta State long ago, but athletic trainers are required to take 75 hours of continuing educational units every 2 to 3 years.
The athletic training industry has changed since Miller entered it, but his three basic rules for staying healthy remain simple: one, hydrate well; two, try to eat better; and three, don't do anything that can cause an injury. Rule three seems obvious, but Miller said that simple preparation can prevent many injuries.
"It can be as simple as making sure your shoes are tied up," Miller said.
What is harder is getting the right nutrition to the right young athletes. This season, the opening weekend of prep football brought the tragic death of Jackson Prep football player Walker Wilbanks. Doctors said that Wilbanks passed away from severe loss of sodium in his system.
"In whatever you're dealing with, the more education you can give the parents, the more education you can give the coaches, the more education you can give the kids, the better off you're going to be with everything," Miller commented on the death in Jackson. "Because no body really knows how certain injuries happen, they just do. But, if you can give them, if it's concussion materials, if it's how to hydrate the right way -- whatever it is. If you can give them those things then it makes it a lot easier, it makes it a lot easier not just for you, but for the coaching staffs, the schools, because then it's not like they're just covering their butt, but they are truly educating the public."
All athletes have unique bodies and needs. With 9 minutes left in the game, Miller saw that Cornell Gandy was beginning to cramp. He was concerned because Gandy is asthmatic and has sickle cell anemia, which Miller said means that if he becomes dehydrated, his body can shut down.
"You cramp, you start having issues, you can die," Miller said, as he looked Gandy in the eye. " We're gonna get you better, and we might IV you, but that's mainly to cover my butt, and 'cause I like you."
Miller provided Gandy with Gatorade, mustard packets and water. The EMT from the ambulance parked outside of all football games came over and took his blood pressure, Gandy's mother was called to the sideline. No IV was necessary, and Gandy was fine. Miller crouched down so he could be at eye level with Gandy, and told him that he was going to be ok and that he was just being taken out now to be safe.
"The kids trust his judgment, and the coaches trust his judgment," said New Hope Athletic Director Dale Hardin. "The trust factor is huge."
Miller said that athletic training really comes down to being educated and prepared. His truck bed has crutches, knee braces and leg-sets. He has ACE Bandages and rolls of tape. Mustard packets rest in his pockets.
Tomorrow night, Miller will be the only athletic trainer on the field as the two high schools he works for face off. New Hope and Columbus are rivals, but both programs appreciate the work Miller does, and consider him part of their family.
"We couldn't be happier with Jason," said Columbus Athletic Director Rusty Greene.
Miller is just trying to be prepared as he can for tomorrow night.
"I'll go through 40-45 rolls of tape with both teams," he said.
Miller will be in a tough spot in deciding who he wants to win Friday night, but it's safe to say he is hoping for an injury free game.
1. Students accused of statutory rape COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY