Serving as an athletic trainer for a relatively small Nebraska high school is something that Melissa Bulin saw herself doing for some time.
“When I started the program at the University of Central Oklahoma, this is the kind of setting I thought of,” Bulin said. “In our intro paper that we have to write for an application, I always imagined being at a smaller, but bigger school. I’m from Thayer Central, so we’re a small, Class C-2 school. I knew I wanted bigger than that, but I didn’t want the largest high school in Nebraska. Schuyler is actually what I envisioned right before going into the profession.”
Bulin is living out her dream at Schuyler Central High School this year, helping to make the school’s athletes stronger and healthier than they were before her arrival. The job came about thanks to a partnership between Schuyler Community Schools and Columbus Community Hospital, providing for a full-time athletic trainer in the district. Her mission is to take care of the athletes and it’s a job that requires her to be on task every day of the week.
“Everyone kind of thinks of athletic trainers as either taping ankles or giving people water bottles,” Bulin said. “But what I do here, it depends on day-to-day because the schedule changes. Usually, if there are no home games, I’ll get here around 2 p.m., check-in with the nurse, see if there’s anyone I need to see that got hurt the night prior if they’re at an away game or practice if they weren’t able to see me, catch up on paperwork and then some students that want to come in to look at an injury or if they’re already injured, we’ve been doing some exercises to get them back to 100 percent.”
Once school ends, she currently heads off to fall sports practices. She begins with the football players, a group she spends the majority of her time with, thanks to the inherent dangers that come with playing the collision-based activity.
“Football has the highest risk for injury,” Bulin said. “With my contract, I travel with football to all of their games.”
From there, she checks in on the other sports, such as volleyball and softball. This process will be repeated during the winter when she deals with basketball and wrestling, and in the spring, when baseball and soccer come to town. She is an athletic trainer for the entire school and takes care of its students when they need it the most.
“I’m on call for anyone,” Bulin said. “Cross country, volleyball, softball, if somebody needs me, they can call me and I’ll come on over.”
Bulin operates from a small, repurposed classroom near the old gym at SCHS. It's not exactly ideal conditions for an up-and-coming athletic trainer, but they are only temporary accommodations. As part of the $12.5 million renovation of the high school's campus, new facilities are being built that will allow for a new athletic training room as part of the beefed-up gymnasium project.
“The new athletic training room will be between the two gyms and also have access out to the football field,” Bulin said. “On game days, if someone gets hurt, instead of taking them all the way through the school, we can just go right in there.
“Honestly, I was kind of expecting not even half the room (that I would need). I have all the storage I could need. But, there could be improvements. If I had a sink just so kids could wash their hands, I don’t have that, but we can make do. We have a classroom right next door with a sink and we have bathrooms right next door. This is more than what I was expecting. If the new one was this size, I would be happy.”
In just one short month, Bulin has made strides in proving herself to both the students and coaches of SCHS. The higher-ups have also taken notice.
“We have an opportunity to treat injuries at a quicker pace,” SCHS Principal Stephen Grammer said. “Last year and the year before, you’d have guys get hurt and you would not see them (at school) for the next two days. Here, we can actually diagnose and find out if there are concussions and broken bones. She brings that experience in finding out what is wrong at that point.”
One of her main goals is showing that her job requires more than just treating injuries by providing a source of medical knowledge for the community. Bulin said people know that athletic trainers provide help for athletic injuries, but don't always understand the full spectrum of the occupation.
She provides injury and illness prevention, assesses and diagnoses injuries, delivers emergency care, gives therapeutic intervention and health care administration. All of those jobs go into creating an opportunity for Schuyler and its athletes to be healthier and stronger than they were before.
“Just getting the community to know what I’m here for,” Bulin said of one of her primary goals. “I am their first full-time athletic trainer, I’m not trying to make any huge changes right away, but I want to get it right, I want to put a positive outlook on them having an athletic trainer and teaching students (and) the coaches. They’ve done a lot of this already, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning some of the procedures and policies.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.