Bob White, the athletic trainer for Jasper City Schools, nearly made a life as a coal miner.
White says that if you were living in Walker County in the 1970s, you essentially had two choices: you went to college, or if you knew someone, you got into mining. Bob White knew someone.
His wife’s father was a coal miner who had come to Walker County from Kentucky to take a job with Walker-Fayette Coal Company. As a result, White worked in the mines for 8 years.
Forasmuch success as the coal companies in Walker County had, there was always the fear in the back of White’s head that the industry would decline. “There were talks of layoffs,” White said.
So White began to think about other options. Eventually a family friend, Ann Trotter, suggested to Debbie, Bob’s wife, that he pursue the field of athletic training. At the time, White didn’t know that the people he saw on TV running out onto the field when players got injured were athletic trainers.
After writing the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, White discovered that Samford University in Birmingham was one of four universities that had the athletic training curriculum he was looking for. He and Debbie eventually sold their house and moved to Birmingham. Debbie drove back and forth from Jasper to teach while Bob went to Samford.
Eventually Bob discovered that a degree from Samford gave him a direct line to HealthSouth, and he secured a position there doing outreach in Jefferson County. One of the first schools he went to was McAdory High School. While there, White realized that schools in Walker County did not have the same level of athletic training, and he eventually contacted then-principal Danny Gambrell to inquire if Walker might be interested in his services.
Gambrell was fine with it, White says, so long as he ran it by Jack Lamon, who at the time was the head trainer. “We talked with Jack and he said, ‘heck yeah, we could use some help up here,’” White recalls.
White graduated from Samford in 1990, and he and Debbie decided to move back to Jasper. Fortuitously, Dr. K.C. Vague had recently launched a solo orthopedic practice and after the two met, White was hired to assist Vague’s physical therapist, Lynn Mosley.
In the afternoons, White would visit schools all over the county and finish his day at Walker High School.
A year later, Mike Jones came to Jasper to open Rehab South, and White went to work there full-time. “I’d work with the PTs in the morning in clinic and go out to schools in afternoon,” White said. “I did that from ’91 to ’06.”
By 2006, the need for athletic training had grown such that then-Walker High Athletic Director Jimmie Alexander expressed the desire to have an athletic trainer on staff full-time. Alexander soon approached Dr. Robert Sparkman, who at the time was the superintendent of Jasper City Schools. Sparkman cottoned to the idea, and a full-time athletic trainer position was born.
“I’ve been full-time with Jasper City Schools since ’06,” White says.
As White describes it, athletic trainers are responsible for the total healthcare of the athlete. “We have to recognize general medical problems, illnesses, things of that nature that we need to refer out to medical doctors,” he says. “All orthopedic problems, we treat and rehabilitate those injuries. We have a relationship with Southern Orthopedic. Dr. Cuomo and Dr. Vague are our primary doctors that are on the field with us and travel with us. Dr. Cuomo is on the road with us. Also we consult with our coaches on sports nutrition, sports performance, and strength and conditioning. Head to toe.”
Trainers have to be ready to respond at minute’s notice for all types of injuries, whether minor or catastrophic. Travel is also a major part of the job. White travels to all varsity football games on the road and is present for every single home athletic event. “A lot of time involved,” White says.
Program development and continuation is an important aspect of Jasper’s athletic training program. March is National Athletic Trainers’ Month, and the high school utilizes this as a way to perpetuate the program. “We use the whole month to recruit students to our program,” White says. “We keep anywhere from 10-12 students in our program. Kids who are interested in the medical field, interested in sports, who want to go into PT, athletic training, or any medical field. We have applications and let them try out during spring football. There are certain criteria they have to pass. If they pass, they can be a part of our program.”
White’s work has drawn high praise from his superiors. Jonathan Jordan, the current athletic director at Jasper High School, has done extensive work with athletic trainers over his career and says that White may be the best one he’s ever seen. “He has a great pedigree in the athletic training world and all those things come together to make him the vital person he is in our athletic department,” Jordan said.
Jordan underscores both the importance of athletic trainers to the athletic department as a whole and the evolution of the profession. “In the old days, you put ice on it and if they are coherent, you run them back out there. Now these guys are doctors, they are psychiatrists, they are scientists, they’re all that rolled into one thing,” Jordan says. “I don’t know of another field where you have to be that educated to do what they do, just holistically. They are basically magicians.”
White shrugs his shoulders flatteringly, but does not disagree. He understands what all goes into athletic training: the amount of hours, the workload, the knowledge, the skill, and the discipline it takes. Treating athletes from head to toe is a serious job, White will admit, but the role of the athletic trainer has become indispensable.
Jordan adds: “You need athletes to participate in competition and without [athletic trainers], athletes are not on the field. More than anything, they are bound by their calling. It’s not easy to do what they do. It’s a calling and they treat kids and get them back on the field as quickly as possible, when it’s safe, and I don’t think you can ever discount that in an athletic department.” 78