March Madness: Athletic Trainer-Style

By Eva Dean Folkert

The month of March may have a certain madness to it when it comes to the singular sport of basketball, but if you're an athletic trainer tending to the medical needs of hundreds of student-athletes engaged in both winter and spring sports during this month, you're familiar with a whole different level of crazy.

But it's not crazy in a bad way; it's all a good crazy. March madness to an athletic trainer can't be about just one sport; it's about giving crazy-mad care to a myriad of student-athletes in multiple sports as two seasons collide and overlap. And that's a good thing, a great thing, because it means Hope's winter sports teams are NCAA-bound while spring sports teams — who have been practicing since late January/early February — are either in full gear or revving up for their own competitions as well.

And athletic trainers — those first-responders, rehabbers and advisors of athletic wellness to over 500 Hope student-athletes — are on the frontlines of both the care and celebration of all that has Hope athletics personnel and fans happy and proud in March.

"How great was it for me to be at indoor track last Saturday down at Trine and see our first women's indoor track and field championship, drive two hours and 15 minutes arrive at DeVos Fieldhouse for the fourth quarter of an MIAA women's championship game, also against Trine, and then see that finish (an overtime win and MIAA championship for the women's basketball team)! I mean that's what this is about," says Tim Koberna, Hope's head athletic trainer and assistant professor of kinesiology.

"Being able to help those student-athletes with the different needs that they have and seeing them achieve on that platform, that's what it's all about. I'm extremely excited for both of those teams.  All of our teams," he adds, emphatically.

Photo of our 2017-18 Hope College Athletic Training staff and Athletic Training Students

While March brings basketball madness, it also brings National Athletic Training Month. The coinciding of these two monthly monikers makes even more sense when you consider that this third month of the year brings with it another maddening and crazy reality. The unpredictability and hazards of Midwestern spring weather — whether it's dicey ten inches of snow, or its sideways rain, or its sun-washed, 55-degree days— means athletic trainers know their game-day assignments will change as much as their varied outdoor wardrobes will.

"But what I appreciate about our staff is they know when March gets here, we have to have flexibility and we have to have a number of different plans in place to execute depending on what variable presents itself," Koberna explains.

Of course, the care of student-athletes by athletic trainers goes far beyond the sidelines of game days. As healthcare professionals, they are concerned with the holistic well being of student-athletes by responding and impacting their physical, nutritional and mental health.  "We're able to be that frontline medical provider to really go ahead and give them consultation anytime in those areas. And it all goes back to that one ultimate goal of performance and being able to participate from a health and safety standpoint with the highest of standards in place."

This weekend, Hope's high standards will be in place on many levels as it hosts the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship. Koberna will remain home with part-time assistant colleagues Mikaela Harless  and Anne Japinga  to serve the Hope women's basketball as well as three visiting squads. Tony Richards, assistant athletic trainer, will travel with the men's basketball team as they'll compete in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship at Augustana College. And Tonia Gruppen, athletic trainer and assistant professor of kinesiology, will be on the road with men's lacrosse as they play at Monmouth College in Illinois on Saturday.

At home or on the road, at practice or on game day, in the athletic training room or the classroom, Hope's athletic trainers make March, and every month of the year, a time of compassionate care for all.

"I want to make a difference and help mold and prepare student-athletes for other things that occur in their lives," concludes Koberna, the recipient of the 2018 Student Senate Preceptor of the Year award from the Great Lakes Athletic Trainers' Association for his outstanding work with students. "All of us do. We use athletics and the adversity athletes go through with injuries, with sport in general, to prepare them to see the bigger picture for greater things down the road." | PO Box 9000, Holland, Michigan 49422