Students and athletes get a leg up in athletic medicine

North Kitsap High’s head athletic trainer, Chris Franklin, right, works on a finger injury on freshman Jenna Batcho Wednesday. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
North Kitsap High’s head athletic trainer, Chris Franklin, right, works on a finger injury on freshman Jenna Batcho Wednesday.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

POULSBO — Katie Deets loved watching TV shows about paramedics as a child.

So when she entered North Kitsap High School, her dad suggested she try the athletic medicine classes to see if a career in the medical field would suit her.

“I thought this was a good way to see if I was interested, and it turns out I am,” Deets, a 2008 North Kitsap graduate, said of the athletic medicine program.

Now Deets is a junior at Seattle University, studying biology and psychology with the ultimate goal of becoming a surgeon. She said the athletic medicine program’s hands-on training gave her a head start in her current studies.

The same was true for Marja Larsen. Larsen, a 2002 North Kitsap graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic medicine from Washington State University and has been the head athletic trainer at Kingston High since the school opened in 2007. She said the medical training she received in the classroom and on the sidelines in high school put her ahead of her peers in college.

“The exposure to it at a young age was really beneficial to me,” Larsen said.

Deets and Larsen, along with hundreds of other current and former students, were taught by North Kitsap’s head athletic trainer, Chris Franklin. Franklin, who is entering his 16th year at North, has played a key role in the development of the athletic medicine programs at both high schools. Franklin sits on the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s medical aspects committee and the state Department of Health’s athletic training advisory committee, helping set regulations for athletic medicine teachers throughout the state.

Last year, Franklin prompted the school district to purchase a software program called ImPACT, to test students who have had concussions. Students take a cognitive test at the beginning of a sports season to establish a baseline of how their brain functions. Then, if they suffer a concussion, they retake the test a week later to see if their brain is suffering any effects from the injury. If they pass, they can play. If not, they sit out until they’ve healed.

But Franklin doesn’t leave the students’ safety at that. He takes every measure to ensure athletes do not return to play until they are ready.

“Every kid that gets a concussion, I am 100 percent going to send them to a doctor,” he said.

In addition to his afterschool duties at sporting events, Franklin teaches six athletic medicine classes at North and acts as the school’s webmaster. He was honored last spring for his work, when the National Athletic Trainers’ Association named him the Gatorade Secondary School Athletic Trainer of the Year for the 10th district, a region that includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

“Chris rolled in and has worked his tail off to increase the program to what it is now,” North Kitsap High assistant principal John Waller said. “He’s turned it into a program that is absolutely beneficial to kids.”

With all that Franklin’s duties entail, he’s glad to have the help of an assistant athletic trainer. The school district considered eliminating the assistant trainer position at North this summer, but ultimately chose to keep it and add a new assistant trainer at Kingston High as well.

Both schools hope to hire assistant trainers by the time school starts next week.

“Once school starts, it gets a little hectic. So it’ll be good to have two people,” Larsen said.

The assistant trainers also help Franklin and Larsen guide students in the schools’ athletic medicine internship programs. Students interested in the medical field, not just athletic training, get first-hand experience working with injured athletes in the program. Several of Franklin’s former students have gone on to work as EMTs, physician’s assistants, athletic trainers, nurses and other medical professionals. Others have used the skills learned in the program, like CPR and first aid, in everyday life.

“There are a lot of education aspects,” Franklin said of the internship training. “Not only is that a skill they can use after school, but it’s for job readiness or maybe even with their families.”

Scott Bothe, a junior at North, hopes to be a firefighter. He entered the athletic training internship as a way to augment his classroom learning in that field.

“It kind of prepares me to do what I’m going to be doing in the future,” Bothe said. “When you’re a trainer, you get more of the hands-on stuff.”

While much of the on-the-field training involves simple tasks like patching up cuts and taping ankles, the experience is valuable.

“I always secretly loved it when the kids got hurt. I know that’s bad,” Deets said. “It’s a good test of skills. You kind of switch from classroom mode to ‘I hope I learned everything I was supposed to.’

“I think we’re really lucky to have this,” she said.

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