Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Jake Ritter is an occupational therapist. Ritter is a certified athletic trainer who assists companies with injury prevention in the occupational setting.
The campaign began last Friday and will continue through the end of the next week. During this time, the team will sport small helmet stickers containing the outline of Alaska and the logo of the National Athletic Trainers Association, a sign of the team’s alliance with an athletic trainer, in this case, Frontier Industrial and Sports Medicine’s Jake Ritter.
The campaign, which originated several years ago in Oklahoma, is centered around the message “safety in athletics begins with having an athletic trainer” and hopes to give a face to Ritter and other athletic trainers working with football teams around the state.
“We’re just trying to make sure people understand that — one, that their kids are safe,” Alaska Athletic Trainers Association spokesperson Michael Dhesse said. “Two, that the people that have been hired to keep them safe are qualified.”
After graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 2005, Ritter earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic training Eastern Washington University and later passed his board exam to become a certified athletic trainer. Now 31, Ritter’s day job is assisting companies to prevent injuries in occupational settings, but he spends up to 15 hours a week serving football teams as an athletic trainer.
According to statistics compiled by NATA, less than 40 percent of public high schools in the United States employ a full-time athletic trainer. Dhesse said none of the high schools in Alaska employ athletic trainers. According to Thunder Mountain High School athletic director Jake Jacoby, the district pays for Ritter’s services at football games and wrestling tournaments, but just as a temporary employee.
Still, Ritter dutifully attends practices on his own dime. He said football players are just as likely to get injured at practice than at a game. Ritter laments the thought of a player getting injured and, after going unnoticed, does not receive treatment for it.
“It’s just good for everyone involved to get care sooner, open communication from an athletic trainer to coaches to administrators to teachers to other health care providers. You got everyone involved,” Ritter said. “If you don’t have that, things just kind of fall through the cracks.”
“I don’t know how many kids are out here — there’s probably about 50 — and you’re expecting the coach to make sure the kids got grades, and you’re trying to work on skill positions, offense, and then, they’re supposed to be responsible for the health of the athletes … they’ve got a lot of their plate.”
Ritter said “sprains and strains” are what he sees most often, but is also versed on concussions symptoms. After a player is concussed, he manages the “return to play protocol” and gives the green light to the coach when a player is ready to return to the field.
“His involvement is invaluable to us,” Juneau United Football coach Randy Quinto said. “I’ve had love-hate relationships with our trainers because I love having them there because they keep our guys safe, and that’s first and foremost, but I hate seeing them because I know they’re going to say that one of my boys can’t play.”
“It’s more important that they have their heads, that they’re able to walk away from this game and be able to have to great lives after this.”
Ritter said he’s grateful for the opportunity to work with Juneau athletes. He said the school district is moving in the right direction when it comes to making football and other sports safer, but there’s still room for improvement.
“Having someone just at games — it’s important — but it’s just a small piece of the big picture,” Ritter said.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.