To the rescue
De Soto’s new full-time athletic trainer has Wildcat athletes head over heels
That JT Thompson sprained his ankle was by no means news. The De Soto junior has battled his ankles throughout his sporting career, spraining both multiple times.
De Soto athletic trainer Steve Hawkins pulled up close, examining the most recently injured ankle.
This time the right one was a victim of a basketball practice pile up the evening before.
"You're going to have to shave it, you know that?" Hawkins asked with a wry smile.
The hard-nosed football linebacker grimaced, then drew a relieved breath when no razor was immediately brandished.
No shaving, and for that matter, no pain met Thompson that Thursday as Hawkins began treatment on the afflicted ankle.
He slowly placed a series of electric pads on Thompson's ankle. He strung wires from what might as well have been a car battery charger and plugged tiny prongs into the pads on Thompson's ankle as if he was hooking up a surround sound system.
He began fitting a soft blue boot -- it looked more like the collapsible cooler you packed your lunch in today than it did a medical tool -- over the pads and the wires and pulled over a jug of ice water, filling a pocket in the boot full. Finally, he rose to throw a switch that sent electricity coursing through Thompson's now-ice cold ankle.
"Feel that?" he asked.
"Oh yeah," came the short reply.
Hawkins helped his patient wheel around on the table as the junior kicked his foot up in the air and waited. Twelve minutes later, Thompson was one step closer to returning to the court.
Electrodes, wires, ice water, and don't forget jokes and smiles are the ingredients of one more problem solved.
Hawkins is in his first season of full-time work in De Soto. Olathe Medical Center's Sportsnet expanded its high school sports medicine program this summer to include De Soto and Mill Valley schools, and Hawkins, splitting his time between Spring Hill and Wellsville, jumped at the opportunity to transfer and fill the position at De Soto.
"A big advantage is it's one school, one staff and one set of athletes instead of two sets," he said. "And the kids here are great."
Though he complimented the Wildcats' overall health coming into the sports season and said it prevented a slew of nagging injuries, Hawkins has been plenty busy prowling the sidelines at De Soto games.
He's typically on duty from 11 a.m. until practices wrap up every evening, working with individuals on rehabilitation during class and making himself available while the teams are actually working on the court after school.
Holding court in a single school has simplified Hawkins' job somewhat, but he still confronts a wide variety of problems and issues on a daily basis. Soon after finishing Thompson's ankle, he began making final preparations for a nutrition speaker he had arranged for De Soto's athletes.
That presentation came less than 24 hours after special meetings he lined up with the parents of the different winter sports athletes. All that comes on top of dealing with the drastic differences in injuries he'll likely encounter with each sport.
Football was breaks and concussions while basketball is more rolled ankles and pulled hamstrings. Wrestling didn't present nearly the dangers Hawkins expected when he first worked around the sport after arriving from Texas 14 years ago, but it does bring its own concerns.
"A lot of kids just pile on the layers and that's the wrong way to lose weight," Hawkins said. "You have to exercise more, keep the same amount of calories going in. You just need to burn more off versus losing it all in water weight. Starving and piling on layers of clothing isn't the way to do it."
Hawkins graduated from Pittsburg State and got a masters in athletic training from Indiana State. He taught gym and American history while doubling as a trainer for seven years in Texas, then added two more years of teaching after he and his wife moved to Kansas in 1991.
A friend helped him find his current job, and while Hawkins said he misses the classroom, he's happy to still be working with kids.
"They keep you young," he said. "Sometimes you miss the classroom, because you miss teaching the kids stuff you've been through."
Hawkins stopped while being interviewed and looked back at Thompson, nearing the end of his ankle treatment.
"How is it?" he asked.
"Alright," Thompson answered, laying upside, foot sprawled in the air.
"I can tell. Your hair's getting a little straighter," Hawkins quipped, eluding to the electricity still coursing through the ankle.
The treatment, repeated for several days and complemented by work on an exercise bike, allowed Thompson to return to the floor a few days early, but getting the player back on the floor isn't the only goal, Hawkins said.
The pair will continue to meet through the season, working to strengthen the ankle and keep Thompson healthy beyond the basketball court.
"I want him to play as soon as he can," Hawkins said, "but I want him to play safely. I don't want to endanger him doing it again to where he'd be out even longer."