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Athletics Practices, Protocols Aim to Keep Students Safe

by Stacy Calfo  |   Back to Table of Contents

Sports-related injuries, especially to the head, are hot-button topics in the media, galvanizing doctors, coaches and trainers — and worrying families with young athletes at home. The Ravenscroft Athletics Department has taken a proactive approach, hiring certified
trainers, developing protocols and procedures, and focusing on prevention and education to keep athletes as safe as possible.

“We try to get out in front of injuries,” said Athletic Director Ned Gonet, who is also head football coach. “You wish you could go through a season without injuries, but we are prepared to help athletes with rehabilitation and recovery when it happens. We are doing all we can to make sure we have the right procedures and people in place.”

“We are talking about protecting kids long-term, not just during the current sports season,” head athletic trainer Tim Savage added.

“We want to create healthy, productive young people.”


athletics practices

Student trainer Alexis Fenner ’19 tapes varsity basketball player Emily Hayman ’20’s ankle before practice.

Two Full-Time, Professional Athletic Trainers

  • Nationally certified and licensed in North Carolina, athletic trainers Tim Savage and Sofia Armstrong ’11 take the lead to help prevent and treat injuries.
  • They get to know members of sports teams and establish consistent communication and follow-up before, during and after the season.
  • Following a model established by retired Ravenscroft trainer Michelle (“Coach P”) Piette, they train and mentor students interested in sports medicine as student trainers. Although the students largely observe in the training room, they can help with tasks like applying heat or ice and wrapping or taping. “Students can see how we access, treat and get athletes ready to return to play,” Savage said.

Training Protocols and Equipment

  • All head coaches are CPR-certified in case of an emergency.
  • All student-athletes must have an annual physical exam to help identify any health concerns and document their health history for quick access by trainers.
  • Each athlete also undergoes King-Devick screening, which provides a clear baseline for what’s normal and healthy for that particular athlete. That baseline can be consulted if an athlete has a head injury, for example, and needs sideline evaluation.
  • Use of proper equipment (such as properly fitted helmets) and innovative technology (such as mobile robotic tackle dummies) aid in the effort to avoid injury.
  • Staff in athletic programs adhere to the Return to Learn Program, an initiative started by the Brain Injury Association of America, in managing student recovery from concussion.

Education for Student-Athletes, Teachers and Coaches

  • The Athletics Department prioritizes educating student-athletes about the dangers of not reporting injuries such as concussions and ensuring they feel comfortable sharing concerns.

  • P.E. teachers and coaches emphasize the importance of warm-ups and conditioning in injury prevention, working with even the youngest Ravens to develop healthy habits.

  • Coaches of contact sports such as football have adopted new techniques to limit collisions during practice and games.

Close-up of Matt posing for camera in suit and tie

Matthew Mehr ’17

An athlete’s story: Matthew Mehr ’17 on the role of athletic trainers at Ravenscroft

Matthew Mehr ’17 knows the importance of Ravenscroft’s athletic training program more than most.

He played soccer, threw shot put and discus on the track team, and was a manager and student trainer for the boys’ basketball team. Along the way, he suffered numerous injuries, including several knee injuries requiring surgery, a shoulder dislocation, a shoulder tear and a severe concussion. Mehr praised Ravenscroft’s athletic trainers’ consistent encouragement and help with rehab after each of these setbacks. 
“Every time I got injured, the athletic trainers were so helpful in getting me back in the classroom and on the sports field,” he said. “They would help me adapt to my current state, whether in a sling or a brace, and show me ways to take notes in class.”
After spending so much time in the training room, Mehr decided to become a student trainer, helping other athletes work through their injuries. He learned to tape ankles, wrists and fingers and helped athletes complete exercises as part of their own rehab. 

“I think the athletic trainers at Ravenscroft have built the program into something incredible,” he said. “They teach kids such valuable skills and have built a community where all are welcome in the training room.”

Head trainer Tim Savage shares five tips for safe and healthy physical activity

  1. Be physically prepared for your activity
    Increase physical activity level gradually so you are acclimated to its conditions and intensity.
  2. Allow for proper maintenance with warm-ups and cool-downs
    Increase the heart rate followed by a nice dynamic warm-up to get your body ready for what’s coming. Afterwards, cool down and stretch — don't just flop down when you’re done. Improve flexibility by stretching or rolling on a foam roller to break up muscle tension. 
  3. Listen to your body
    The human body is an amazing machine. It will let you know when you are pushing too hard or doing too much; all we have to do is listen. Adequate rest is key. More to come on that.
  4. Report and treat injuries early
    While most injuries start out as minor issues, they can progress into debilitating injuries that cause the athlete to lose time from the competition/activity.
  5. Take time off 
    Avoid overuse injuries and burnout by taking time off or playing a different sport to allow for a fresh start mentally and to challenge the body in a different way. And remember, ALL sports need an off-season.
Savage looking at camera, standing on track wearing Ravenscroft shirt

Head athletic trainer Tim Savage

From the Archives

ravenscroft magazine

Read more in this story from the archives of Ravenscroft Magazine: 

The Impact of Coach P. and Ravenscroft’s Sports Medicine Program

Football player standing next to remote-controlled tackle dummy on football field

Watch Ravenscroft’s robot tackle dummies in action in this October 2017 news story from NBC affiliate WTHR.

Robotic MVPs offer increased safety for athletes

Ravenscroft football players are safer thanks to MVPs: Mobile Virtual Players. These state-of-the-art tackle dummies are used in football practice to help prevent player-to-player injuries. As Athletic Director Ned Gonet explained, the dummies simulate ball movement and game scenarios, which helps train athletes to tackle correctly. The key is to make sure players are not engaging head-first, reducing the risk of head injuries from helmet-to-helmet contact. 

Ravenscroft acquired the MVPs in 2017, making it one of the first high schools to implement this level of safety into a football program. Ravenscroft board member and parent Kristin Replogle generously donated the tackle dummies after seeing them in use at Dartmouth College.  Replogle shared that her family loves sports and understands the potential impact of sports-related injuries. 

“As a speech-language pathologist, I’m acutely aware of traumatic brain injuries. In football, there is a better way to train and reduce this risk by using the MVP tackling dummies,” she said. “That’s why we felt the program should be brought to Ravenscroft.”

Post-concussion care gets a boost with “Return to Learn”


Following any head injury, it’s critical for student-athletes to be monitored and evaluated, not just for a return to the playing field but also the classroom. Ravenscroft adheres to the Return to Learn Program, an initiative started by the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA).
According to the CDC, the experience of learning and engaging in academic activities that require concentration can actually cause a student’s concussion symptoms to reappear or worsen.

As a result, the following Return to Learn protocol is recommended by the BIAA:

  • Total cognitive and physical rest, also called the complete rest phase, is the first step in the recovery plan. This phase should last for three days or less if the student is symptom-free for 24 hours. Activities that should be avoided include cell-phone use (including texting), computer use and video games. Activities that can be done include yoga, light meditation, light stretching activities and breathing exercises.
  • Light thinking activities are the second step in the recovery plan. Activities that are appropriate include listening to music that is calm and relaxing and playing familiar games. Activities that were mentioned in the complete rest phase may be expanded upon (yoga, meditation, stretching exercises and breathing activities).
  • In the return-to-school phase, students start with half-days or attending school part-time. School staff should Identify accommodations that will make the student most successful. Always monitor the student carefully, allow rest breaks and look for any indications of stress or strain. 

Everyone involved with the student works together to support the student through this recovery. This includes parents and school staff. It is key for everyone to keep the lines of communication open while monitoring the recovery plan.

Learn more about Return to Learn on the BIAA website.

Two young men in soccer uniforms, chasing soccer ball

Varsity soccer player Brad Taber ’20