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Effingham head athletic trainer Troy VanBlaricum tapes the ankle of a football player during practice at Effingham High School, Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

Health has long been the primary concern when dealing with high school student-athletes, according to those who work with them.

That's become especially true today. For starters, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is still a problem in 2021, just as it was in 2020.

"You're always trying to be aware of any kids that have symptoms, whether they present like they have symptoms or try to hide that they have symptoms," said Effingham High School's head athletic trainer, Troy VanBlaricum. "When we first came back from COVID, we were taking everyone's temperature and making sure that they were filling out a questionnaire of any symptoms that they might currently have.

"From our standpoint, that's the big things that have changed as far as monitoring symptoms more than anything."

The pandemic has changed everyone's job in some way, shape, or form.

But VanBlaricum, who started with the Hearts in 2006, saw changes coming long before COVID.

"A big portion of that goes back to concussions," VanBlaricum said. "Probably six-to-10 years ago, the NFL started making a big push on the concussion protocols, and at that point, there weren't a lot of athletic trainers out there for youth, high school, sports. I think many school districts realized that this was a more serious thing than what we've ever realized. That's why we're getting contacted with more and more high schools wanting to put more athletic trainers in their facilities. Not necessarily because of sprains and strains, but I think concussions are the leader, as far as having an athletic trainer on your staff goes."

In the past three years, VanBlaricum said he has dealt with nearly 12-to-15 concussion-related injuries, but it doesn't just start-and-stop with football.

"That's counting football, soccer, basketball, and that's counting all sports at all levels. So, it's a prevalent injury," VanBlaricum said.

From a mental health standpoint, there are also similarities between COVID and concussions. Both lead to an individual coming out of their natural comfort zone and into more of an enclosed setting.

"It's very similar to whenever we were talking about COVID, and you take your kids out of sports and not being able to participate or being around their friends a whole lot. It's the same thing," VanBlaricum said. "Some kids recover very quickly from a concussion, and they might only miss one week. Other kids, it takes them longer to recover from it, and they're missing three to four weeks. You're taking a kid out of their routine and out of their ability to play a sport that they love; it can weigh on them mentally.

"Then, also, on the school side of it, if they can't process information as quickly and they're falling behind in some of their classwork, and they can't take their tests due to concussions. So, now, all of this stress is building on them."

Additionally, VanBlaricum has also seen a shift in the athletic training field over the years, as more and more schools are finding it hard to go without them.

VanBlaricum's day-to-day schedule has evolved since he started at Effingham,

"Whenever I first started as an athletic trainer, I only came to the school one day a week," VanBlaricum said. "I came on Wednesday afternoons for what we called an 'injury check.' That was for anyone that got hurt throughout the week. Then, I would cover varsity football only. Then, we changed it to me coming to school three days a week, covering junior varsity and varsity home events, and traveling with varsity football.

"Now, it's changed to where I'm here every day, and I'm covering all freshman and sophomore events, all junior varsity and varsity events, and I travel with varsity football.

"So, it's changed a lot."

Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at 217-347-7151 ext. 124 or alex.wallner@effinghamdailynews.com.

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