April 1, 2021
MARSHFIELD – One common theme during the COVID-19 pandemic is people's yearning for a return to a semblance of normalcy. Local athletes getting to compete at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) state tournaments was a welcome sight to wrap up the high school winter sports seasons.
One common theme during the COVID-19 pandemic is people's yearning for a return to a semblance of normalcy. Local athletes getting to compete at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) state tournaments was a welcome sight to wrap up the high school winter sports seasons.
Numerous high school athletes had memories to last for a lifetime. It wouldn't have been possible without our Marshfield Clinic Health System athletic trainers, who are contracted with 34 school districts and helped make the winter sports season possible.
"It basically changed everything that we do," said Jim Nesbit, athletic trainer manager, on COVID-19. "It also dictated our schedules be written in pencil not in ink. The trainers were key. Right when we came back from furlough in July, we were instrumental to schools to put plans in place so students could return as safe as possible and give them the opportunity to participate in athletics."
Winter seasons culminate at state tournament
Nicole Slovensky has been an athletic trainer before. But, during the COVID-19 pandemic, high school sports seasons were a whirlwind.
Schedules for both trainers and sports teams were fluid with cancellations possible on short notice. Ultimately, the state tournaments went on with the nimble work by athletic trainers.
Slovensky, also the athletic trainer at Wisconsin Rapids for the Health System, wasn't planning to host the WIAA State Girls Hockey and State Boys Hockey tournaments. But, with typical areas like Madison not holding tournaments and Wisconsin Rapids' centralized location, in 2021 that meant state hockey in Wisconsin Rapids.
"I have worked state tournaments in the past and you're mostly trying to maximize the experience for teams and spectators," said Slovensky. "This year it was keeping people spaced out, having teams come in at different times, no overlap in the same locker room or classroom, cleaning between games, and forms to fill out to ensure symptom-free players. Once the tournament started it wasn't all that different, but the preparation beforehand was very different."
Slovensky and athletic trainers were in daily communication with the WIAA and school athletic directors about safety guidelines.
Attendance protocols, temperature checks, social distancing were just some of the things involved in addition to their trainer responsibilities regarding injury or their typical job duties. Nesbit said many trainers put themselves out there for COVID-19 risk.
"They were putting themselves out there as much as anybody," he said. "Screening people at entrances, staffed isolation rooms at schools and then did their regular job."
While there is no denying state tournaments looked quite different this year, it was still great for students' hard work to pay off with the experience of state.
"You could tell teams who had been here before it didn't have the same feel," Slovensky said. "At state gymnastics there was no awards ceremony at the end. Awards were mailed to the respective schools."
Slovensky hopes in spring, with athletics mostly played outdoors, that events will be similar to how it was pre-COVID-19.
"We are very much looking forward to having more fans again," she said. "This is not what kids are used to. Hopefully in spring, more people are allowed at games. At many locations there haven't been student sections and classmates are missing out on supporting their classmates. Ultimately, we do this for student athletes and we hope they get back to how things were soon."
For Nesbit, looking back on what was accomplished by Health System athletic trainers that allows kids to be kids was gratifying.
"A lot of our staff have been with us a long time. It speaks well to their character," he said. "It says something about Marshfield Clinic Health System sticking with the program during this time. We see the impact on young people, so many kids that need to be in school, that need athletics as part of their life to really feel good about themselves. The mental health of student athletes really suffered, anxiety increased and to have our athletic trainers be part of bringing that back to these athletes is very impactful. To allow these kids to get back doing what they love really is a testament to our trainers and our Health System."