Immediate med care on sports field is worth the extra cost

Oct 1, 2019 Randy Tucker

Twenty-two years ago, on what would become Leroy Sinner Field in Pavillion, I had the worst afternoon I ever experienced as a football coach.

Our Shoshoni Wranglers were playing a talented Wind River team. Due to administrative decisions, the Wranglers had just two varsity coaches, Harold Bailey and Tim Ervin. I was the junior high coach and traveled to almost every away game my own schedule allowed.

Wind River's tight end hit out linebacker Joe Metzler with a hard block. The resounding thud and the sight of Joe hitting the ground limp told us something was very, very wrong.

Joe suffered a brain tear on the hit and spent many months recovering from the play. He still has lingering effects today, more than two decades later.

That afternoon an ambulance and EMTs were present. Fremont County still provided ambulance service then, long before it was privatized. Jump ahead 22 years, and we've had a plethora injuries and ailments this season.

During a game in Shoshoni, a Kemmerer player was hit hard under the chin by a much larger player from Thermopolis. The Kemmerer player hit the ground limp and briefly was unconscious. When he regained consciousness he couldn't feel his hands or feet.

Fearing the worst, game officials called for an ambulance. It finally arrived almost an hour later. Air ambulance companies refused to land a helicopter on or near the field in Shoshoni in spite of open spaces that extended to the horizon in all four directions.

The story had a happy ending. After ground transportation to the emergency room in Riverton, he was airlifted to Casper, returning home requiring only a neck brace.

Four weeks later a similar incident occurred when Shoshoni and Lander played a junior varsity game. The ambulance again took an hour to arrive. A medical professional who was officiating the game suggested they transport the boy straight to Casper.This player, too, was released to go home.

Both events were, thankfully, not serious. A kid suffering a severe enough neck trauma to experience paralysis for even a few moments is nothing to take lightly.

In the second half of the Riverton / Worland game Friday, a Worland player left the field, told a coach he wasn't feeling well and then dropped to the ground.

Riverton has a full-time trainer on staff in former Wolverine standout Ross Anderson. Anderson is a Riverton assistant coach this season and when he saw the player go down across the field he was quick to run to his aid. Derek Watson, another Wolverine assistant, held the player's head to stabilize him as Anderson performed CPR. Witnesses said the boy wasn't breathing, and his eyes were fixed -- a bad situation.

An ambulance was nearby, and a second ambulance arrived a short time later, finally taking the situation over from Anderson.

The boy was again taken across the street to SageWest Riverton and transported to Casper for professional assessment.

Football is a dangerous game. Even the minor injuries associated with the sport can have long term repercussions.

As a coach in Shoshoni it was still a 45-minute minimum wait for a trip to the fully functioning Riverton Hospital back in the 1980s and 90s.

Something as simple as a dislocated finger took over an hour to treat. It was forbidden even in those days to do more than perfunctory first aid at the game, but when a basketball or football player dislocated a finger I would tell the kid to look the other way and set it back in place. Not allowed, I know, and no doubt an excuse for a hostile administration to terminate me, but I didn't want to see kids suffer needlessly.

One September night I rode the bus to Lovell with Tim and Harold. The administration was saving money by cutting an assistant football position. The money they saved didn't extend to needless Friday afternoon "experts" or conferences.

We led the Bulldogs 14-13 at the half, but we had our hands full. In the third period, Rob Carter, one of our running backs, took a hard hit and dropped, clutching his ribs. The pain was so intense we thought he might have ruptured his spleen.

I rode the ambulance to a well-equipped Big Horn County Hospital and waited for the ER staff to conduct tests.

In the interim I called his mom at home and identified myself.

Her terrified voice is something I'll always remember. "Oh my God, how bad is he hurt?"

A couple of broken ribs and a bruised spleen, as it turned out.

Professional medical care at sporting events is something every district should invest in. It is expensive, but what is the cost of a teenager's life?

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