Behind the lines….getting physical

With the first day of football, volleyball, cross country, golf, and swimming approaching the preparation for the upcoming fall season is well underway. Part of that preparation, a very important part, is the pre-season physical each boy and girl must have before participating in any sport at the middle school or high school level.

Today, most kids get their physicals privately from a family physician, but a few schools still offer the mass physical style that previous generations grew up with.

In my sophomore and junior years, we took a team bus to the now defunct Lander gym for group physicals with the guys from Lander and Dubois. They filed several hundred of us through in just a couple of hours. In retrospect, I feel a little sorry for the doctor who had to conduct the “turn your head and cough” hernia exam.

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In that sophomore exam, a doctor picked up a heart murmur and sidelined me from football until I could see a specialist. In those days, there were cardiac, orthopedic, and pediatric physicians all over Fremont County. Two generations ago, medical care was vastly superior to what we can find in our communities today, but I digress.

It turned out to be nothing. The cardiac physician put me on a treadmill test and told me it was common for teenagers to have murmurs. It disappeared during the physicals I had during my junior and senior years.

I’m not sure if my coaches did it, but when my coaching career began in the fall of 1980, I went to the nurse’s office, made copies of each athlete’s physical, and carried them with me on away games in a briefcase. I read each one, noting which student had serious allergies, if one of them had a history of seizures, or if a youngster was a Type I diabetic, among other potential conditions.

This was important information to know, in most cases, it wasn’t life and death. But there were incidents.

During my second year as a head track coach in Lusk, I had an excellent freshman high jumper, she cleared 5-2 in the third meet of the season in Douglas but started to act strangely. I remembered a note on her physical indicating she had a history of mild seizures, and sure enough, she was having one. Along with the physical, we had medical consent forms signed by parents that I carried in the same briefcase. My assistant coach took her to the ER in Douglas in a parent’s vehicle and she checked out fine. It was a little tense for a 24-year-old coach.

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A few years later, one of my football players was stung by a bee in Worland. He was allergic to bee stings and started to go into anaphylactic shock during pre-game. His physical indicated he carried an epi-pen. Another coach checked his bag, found the pen and the youngster injected himself. His parents were there, and I left it up to them to decide if he should play. They watched him a bit, then said go ahead. He played four quarters that afternoon.

I’m not sure if it’s even legal anymore for a coach to read players’ physicals. In this era of snowplow parents, unending interference from them, and the tendency to file legal action at the drop of a hat, a coach has to be very careful with privacy laws.

Present-day administrators are aware of the potential litigation coaches and teachers face. The good ones run interference for their staff, and the bad ones line up with the parents and leave their employees to fend for themselves.

I had a few of both during my career, those that knew the value of what their teachers and coaches were trying to accomplish, and those who just covered themselves in every situation without regard for students or staff.

One year, the bean counters in our district cut the Shoshoni varsity football coaching staff from three to just two coaches. At the same time, they cut the middle school from two to just me. It was a dangerous situation, but the superintendent didn’t care, it saved a whopping $1000 in the budget.

I had 35 junior high boys out that year, we had an excellent season, but I had to coach every position, run the offense, defense, and special teams all by myself. Thankfully we didn’t have any serious injuries, and it worked out OK, but an assistant coach is a great asset.

At the varsity level, Tim Ervin and Harold Bailey had the Wranglers alone.

The varsity was pretty good that season, but we had a very tough Lovell team on the road in Big Horn County midway through the year.

Harold knew how tough it might get up there and one practice a couple of days before the Lovell game I offered to go with the team as an extra coach.

It proved to be a good idea. Our running back Rob Carter was getting mauled by a huge, hard-hitting Bulldog team. On one play, Rob didn’t get up, grabbing his ribs and having trouble breathing.

They stopped the game and Big Horn County EMTs evaluated Rob and loaded him in an ambulance. I hopped in and went with Rob to the ER, carrying his parental consent form with me.

As the ER doctor took X-rays and examined him, I used the hospital phone to call his mom. I’ll never forget her reaction when I said, “Mrs. Carter, this is coach Tucker.” She gasped into the phone with a deeply startled, deeply concerned voice, “How bad is he hurt?” she said.

It turned out to be just bruised ribs, and a flak jacket became part of his uniform for the remainder of the season. But if Tim, Harold, and I hadn’t worked out an idea to get a third coach at the game, Harold would have been alone on a hostile field, trying to run a defense he didn’t spend much time with and doing the kids a great disservice.  

I didn’t return to the game, but thankfully our junior high basketball coach Steve Gresback drove up to watch and he drove Rob and me back to Shoshoni.

The only thing that surprised us about the entire situation was that we didn’t get written up for providing extra support for the football team. Yes, it was that type of environment, but we’d rather take the heat than put the kids in jeopardy.

Coaches do a lot more than just the X and O that gets them second-guessed by the experts in the stands. With just a couple of weeks to go, the wheels are already in motion.

As my late friend Harold used to say, “The state championship was determined last summer.”

A smart man, Harold Bailey.        ~

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