GRANITE CITY — Among their tools are athletic tape, ice and heat and a wealth of knowledge built on years of training and education.
They are certified athletic trainers like Keli Keener, who devotes many hours of time toward keeping the Belleville West High School athletes healthy and on the field.
Keener was among the group of Southwestern Conference athletic trainers who met Wednesday at Granite City High.
As part of National Athletic Training Month in March as recognized by the National Athletic Trainer's Association, the group was joined by the conference's athletic directors as well as Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert, East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks and several other mayors.
"What we have in Keli is she's there every day," Belleville West Athletic Director Bill Schmidt said. "She's there at night for games, she's there on Saturdays for practices. She treats kids in the training room, she monitors the floor and the fields, she goes out to the practices.
"I don't know what we'd do without them --and I can't imagine ever having to go backwards to an area where we didn't have trained medical personnel on the bench at practices and games."
Keener and the athletic trainers at Belleville East (Aaron Kremmel), Althoff (Meghan Gehrs), O'Fallon (Brandon Kircher) and East St. Louis (Lindsay Katz) are all provided by Memorial Hospital in Belleville.
Keener is in her eighth year as the athletic trainer at Belleville West. She grew up in Bethalto and played tennis, basketball and softball at Civic Memorial High before playing college tennis at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
"We get there in the afternoons, but we are there until everything is over," Keener said. You've just got to be around all the time. It's girls soccer season now, so we do see a lot more knee injuries and ankle injuries"
Being at one school helps the athletic trainers develop a relationship with coaches and players.
"We work with them all and sometimes we even see them through middle school," Keener said of the players she works with and treats. "They come in for summer camps and we know them through there all the way up through their senior years."
Kremmel played sports at Dupo High School and McKendree University. As a result he has seen both sides of his profession.
"Being an athletic trainer and being at the high school full-time is a great benefit to the athletes, to the coaches, everyone," said Kremmel, in his fourth year at Belleville East and seventh overall as an athletic trainer. "It allows us to develop a relationship with the kids, the parents and the coaches and helps in really streamlining treatment as much as we can."
Many area high schools have added athletic trainers to their support staff in recent years. Among their duties are diagnosing injuries and injury prevention, providing first responder care and also helping athletes after injuries or surgery with the rehabilitation process.
Michelle Wessel is a physical therapist at Memorial Hospital who oversees the sports rehabilitation program and the athletic trainers.
"They're pretty autonomous," Wessel said. "They pretty much run their own show at their schools. I basically coordinate their schedules, their coverage and serve as a physician liaison."
Wessel ran cross country and track at Belleville West.
"When I was in high school the coach taped you," Wessel said. "They took care of it, put you in the cold whirlpool and did their own thing."
Things have changed a lot in the past decade, with athletic trainers taking on a much more important role.
"The athletic trainers at the schools are invaluable," Wessel said. "It speaks volumes about their training and their abilities, to handle emergency response care, first care, and things of that nature. I know the schools are glad that they are there, the athletes are glad and so are we."
Schmidt and other current and former coaches much prefer having athletic trainers around than go back to the days when they were handling many of the medical duties themselves.
"You're looking at one of the worst ankle-tapers in the history of coaches," Schmidt said. "We did all of our training, we taped all of our ankles, diagnosed our own sprains and injuries. They're pretty much unsung heroes, they kind of go under the radar.
"They'd be happy if they were never used, but they're used quite a bit."