In addition to providing a first-rate game-day experience, College Park Center boasts one of the most advanced sports medicine facilities in the nation. It's here that students work behind the scenes to prepare players for success and themselves for careers in the growing athletic training field.
Just steps from the sleek arena floor, Roy Rudewick stands in the middle of UT Arlington’s Sports Medicine Center surrounded by premier, state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment. Hydrotherapy swimming pools. Underwater treadmills. Adjustable treatment tables. Rows of taping stations.
“This center rivals those of the top universities across the country,” says Rudewick, associate athletic director of sports medicine. “It’s a top-notch facility.”
The bustling center, tucked inside the new 7,000-seat College Park Center, serves dual roles. It provides world-class care and treatment for student-athletes while serving as a hands-on classroom for student trainers.
When it opened in February 2012, the Sports Medicine Center became the unofficial nerve center of UT Arlington’s esteemed Athletic Training Education Program, which prepares students to work in the management, prevention, and rehabilitation of injured athletes. One of a handful to be accredited in Texas, the program enrolls 50–60 students each year and boasts nearly 100 percent job placement.
UT Arlington’s investment in the center, more than half a million dollars, comes at a prime time in the athletic training field. Spurred by a growing awareness of sports-related injuries, demand for athletic trainers is expected to soar 30 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than many other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics.
“In the past decade, there has been a big evolution in the health and care of student-athletes,” says Rudewick, a 1989 UT Arlington graduate. “When moms and dads send their kids to school, they want to know they will be taken care of. They want to feel comfortable their children will get the best care possible.”
HELPING ATHLETES SUCCEED
Volleyball players stop by to have ankles taped before practice. Basketball players come for treatments to control swelling or rehab muscle strains. While professional and student trainers monitor their progress, in a nearby doctor’s office an orthopedic surgeon evaluates injuries.
The Sports Medicine Center’s proximity to the arena floor makes it a fast-paced hub of appointments, drop-ins, and examinations. At some point, nearly all of the University’s 200-plus student-athletes representing 14 NCAA Division I men’s and women’s teams will seek treatment, advice, or assistance here.
In one corner, athletes settle into one of two hydrotherapy pools set at varying temperatures for different injuries. A third, larger pool features a treadmill, cameras, and resistance jets that allow athletes to begin rehabilitation more quickly as trainers observe and guide their recovery.
“In the past decade, there has been a big evolution in the health and care of student-athletes.”
The 4,000-square-foot center is also home to eight treatment tables, six taping stations, a locker room, a study area, and numerous pieces of equipment, from portable electromagnetic wave machines to fitted boots that help reduce swelling.
Athletic trainers at UT Arlington spent several years in the design phase, touring facilities around Texas and the United States, talking with other trainers, and evaluating what worked and what didn’t. They knew they wanted a sharp contrast to the cramped room in Texas Hall with one treatment table, two taping stations, and an ice machine.
“It is night and day different,” says Ryan Haire, a senior studying athletic training who has worked in both places. “As a student, having the opportunity to work in a facility of this caliber is incredible. I never imagined I would get this sort of hands-on training.”
Like all students, Haire participates in clinical rotations, which are an integral part of the curriculum. By graduation, students will work 1,500 clinical hours. In addition to assisting UT Arlington athletes, students are placed at high schools across North Texas, Southern Methodist University, the Fort Worth Cats baseball team, the Texas Brahmas hockey team, and private sports medicine centers.
In addition, clinical rotations at Mission Arlington and the University’s Health Services promote a knowledge of general medical issues like asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes that can arise in athletic training.
Last year Haire worked with the men’s basketball team, shadowing professional athletic trainers, taping knees and ankles, and running rehabilitation exercises with players. This fall he served as an athletic trainer with the Trinity High School football team in Euless, a regional and state powerhouse.
For senior Jessica Lair, a clinical rotation with the Maverick women’s basketball team helped reassure her that she’d chosen the right field. She recalled the rush of spending games on the sidelines, feeling like a part of something big. She wants to someday work in the NBA.
“You are helping athletes succeed. They come to you when something is wrong and put their trust in you,” Lair says. “You’re part of a close-knit team. It’s an incredible feeling.”
LEARNING BY DOING
Clinical rotations are crucial, but professors also stress classroom instruction. Students enroll in pathology and pharmacology, musculoskeletal rehabilitation, and the biomechanics of movement, among other courses. The combination of clinical rotations and classroom instruction helps build a strong educational foundation that supports a variety of career paths, says Paul Krawietz, director of the Athletic Training Education Program.
In 2003 UT Arlington became one of the first in Texas to receive accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
“We truly have one of the top programs around,” Dr. Krawietz says. “We provide an active, hands-on learning environment. We have excellent faculty, excellent students, and, now, excellent facilities. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Opportunities for research abound. During her junior year, Lair worked with a professor to evaluate age and gender differences in baseline balance testing. She recently presented the results at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association conference in St. Louis.
Professors in the program, offered through the Kinesiology Department in the College of Education and Health Professions, study mild traumatic brain injuries and concussions, methods for injury preventions, efficacy of modalities—or physical therapy agents—in the treatment of injuries, heat illnesses, and more.
After graduation trainers work in all sectors of athletics, from storied high school football programs, big-time colleges, and professional franchises to hospitals, the military, and the performing arts. Alumnus Jeff Ferguson is director of football operations and sports medicine for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. He earned his master’s degree in 1995 and served as head athletic trainer for the Maverick track and field teams as a graduate student.
Many others pursue graduate degrees, often in physical therapy or occupational therapy. After completing his bachelor’s degree at UT Arlington in 2008, Kelvin Phan earned a master’s degree from Old Dominion University in Virginia. He now works as an assistant athletic director and coordinator of clinical education at the University of Charleston.
He recalls getting his first taste of athletic training when he was assigned to work with the Maverick baseball and softball teams. He quickly learned that reading about an ankle sprain or torn anterior cruciate ligament and responding to one are entirely different experiences. He tries to bring the same tenets of education he received at UT Arlington to the students he teaches.
“They come to you when something is wrong and put their trust in you. You’re part of a close-knit team.”
“On the field, things don’t always happen just like the books say,” Phan says. “Classroom instruction is important to develop a knowledge base, but you also have to know how to solve problems and think outside the box, and you learn that by doing.”
When Kristin Salinas graduated in 2008, she felt prepared for her job as an athletic trainer at Clear Lake High School in the Houston area, where she works with coaches, students, and physicians to treat and prevent injuries. She first knew she wanted to pursue this career when she attended a Houston Rockets game as a girl and spotted an athletic trainer working with a player.
But it wasn’t until she enrolled at UT Arlington that she learned the ins and outs of the profession. Immediately, she knew she’d made the right choice. “I’m not a behind-the-desk kind of person. Athletic training keeps you on your toes. You have to be creative. There’s nothing textbook about it.”
When workplace issues arose her first year at work, Salinas sought guidance from her former professors.
“They were there for me,” she says. “The professors are there for you while you’re in school, while you’re looking for a job, and even after you leave. It’s a very cohesive group.”
In recent months, Phan and dozens of other athletic training alumni have returned to visit College Park Center and tour the new Sports Medicine Center. They all share a common sentiment.
“They feel very proud,” Rudewick says. “And they usually admit to being a little jealous. They wish this place had been around when they were in school.”