High school football season has officially arrived, with Monday marking the first day Tennessee teams could hit the field with helmets and shoulder pads. In one East Tennessee county, coaches, players and their schools are now nationally recognized for their safety efforts in athletics.
The National Athletic Trainer's Association recently awarded the Safe Sports School award to four Sevier County high schools.
Gatlinburg-Pittman, Sevier County, Pigeon Forge, and Seymour High School made the list, which only includes 217 schools in the entire country.
We want them to have the opportunity to play, and play hard. But we also want to make sure that they're safe," said Gatinburg-Pittman High Principal Tony Ogle. "And this award is a good way to show we are going about that in the right way."
To qualify, schools must prove they meet a lengthy checklist that includes safety precautions, health education, and an action plan if a student gets injured. Professional Athletic Trainer Scott Byrd also runs a sports medicine training program at Gatlinburg-Pittman, which allows students to get involved in the training.
A handful of students take his class, then also serve as assistant athletic trainers during practices and games for every high school sport.
Senior Alicia Sumerski is even considering a career related to her experience on the field.
"Maybe sports management, pharmacy, physical therapy -- something along those lines," she said.
Sumerski and many of her fellow trainers also play sports. This week, they're helping the football team.
"It's definitely an extensive network," she said. "Really, we're that last resort in case anything happens."
"They all work really hard to take care of our students," added Ogle. "And it's really nice for them to get some recognition for this award -- so people in a broader spectrum can see what they are doing."
That's exactly what trainer Scott Byrd hopes will happen. He says several schools outside the county have already contacted him to learn more about the award and how they too can apply.