By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
If Bo Shirey is having an uneventful day on the job, that’s a good sign, not just for him, but for the student-athletes he works with.
As a longtime athletic trainer covering high school sports around the county, Shirey is always ready to rush to a player’s aid. He just hopes he doesn’t have to.
“Hopefully I can sit and watch the game, and I don’t have to worry about doing anything,” he said. “We don’t want you to get hurt, but when you do, we’ll take care of you.”
When student-athletes do have to be helped by Shirey, they can be assured he knows what he’s doing. The 1991 Cullman High graduate spent four years at Samford earning his degree in Athletic Training before sitting for — and ultimately passing — an extremely difficult certification test.
The path to becoming a certified athletic trainer wasn’t easy by any means, but it’s worth it to Shirey and his professional peers, especially in March, when their career choice is celebrated as part of National Athletic Training Month.
“There’s Physical Therapy Appreciation Month, there’s Secretary Day, but there’s never been a National Athletic Trainer’s Month, so March is it,” he said. “I guess it’s pretty good to get recognized at what you do.”
Shirey returned to Cullman after earning his education to work at the local hospital as it jumpstarted an athletic training program. Back in those days, he was tasked with covering four schools all on his own, but now that he’s employed by Encore Rehabilitation, Shirey just has two to keep up with.
He takes care of Good Hope and Cold Springs, while three other athletic trainers from Encore split duties for Addison, Vinemont, Holly Pond, Hanceville and St. Bernard. The company also helps out with Cullman Christian and Wallace State.
From when Encore first asked me to come on board, we had one official school, and that was Good Hope that came with me,” Shirey said. “Now we’re up to seven all throughout the community.”
Shirey doesn’t have much to complain about when it comes to his job, but if there’s any aspect he could change, it’d be the hours. A typical day starts around 1 p.m. or earlier and wraps up somewhere close to 9 or 10 p.m. He has to be on site for almost all practices and games for his schools’ teams, whether they’re slated to play during the week or participating in a weekend tournament.
As much as he’d prefer a more regular schedule, Shirey wouldn’t change his current situation one bit if it meant not having the opportunity to work during football season. For him, there’s nothing better than soaking in all the thrills that occur once the Friday-night lights flicker on each fall.
“You’re not on the team, but you can kind of say you’re part of it,” Shirey said. “The most rewarding part is being there when the kids win and enjoying the celebration in the locker room.”
Of course, there’s more to sports than touchdowns, home runs, 3-pointers and goals. There are also injuries, which is where Shirey comes in.
One if his more gruesome memories goes all the way back to the 1998 football season, when a Hanceville player completely dislocated his ankle during a home game against Good Hope. Despite occurring nearly 15 years ago, that gnarly moment is still fresh on Shirey’s mind to this day.
“I remember the kid that got hurt, and I remember the tackle,” he said. “I can’t always remember who won certain games, but I remember the injuries.”
With more kids playing multiple sports all year, Shirey has noticed a difference in how those athletes’ bodies react to the start of a new season compared to their counterparts who only participate in one. The year-rounders tend to run into complications that require big-time procedures like Tommy John surgery, while many of the one-sport boys and girls get going right before their season starts, resulting in soreness.
Neither situation is ideal, so Shirey offered a piece of advice.
“Whatever you do, try to find your balance,” he said.
Concussions have become a national talking point in all levels of sports, but Shirey said he believes awareness of the injury has improved in recent years. He chalked that up to new rules and guidelines that require student-athletes even remotely suspected of being concussed to be cleared by a physician before they can return to the field of play.
Larger schools like Class 6A Hoover High have been able to utilize its bulky resources to acquire new technology that aids in the diagnosis of concussions. Shirey said those options — like imPACT testing, which measures an athlete’s baseline brain functionality — aren’t currently available for most schools in Cullman County, though, due to high cost and time consumption.
That’s not to say the technology won’t make its way to the area at some point, however.
“I’d love to get it implemented here, somehow, some way,” Shirey said.
One misconception Shirey frequently runs into is folks who call him a trainer, when in reality, the correct term is athletic trainer. Shirey is quick to point out trainer better refers to those who are physical trainers and help people improve their overall fitness and physical shape. His title, on the other hand, means he’s certified to recognize, evaluate and prevent injuries.
“It doesn’t bother me that bad,” Shirey said of the mixup. “It bothers some people, but I just try to emphasize it.”
Another common assumption Shirey brought to light was that Encore’s athletic trainers are paid by the schools they cover, which isn’t the case at all. In actuality, Shirey said the company provides the services it does as a marketing tool to build its client base.
When individuals are hurt, the organization helps refer them to a physician in hopes the injured athletes come back to the clinic once they’re ready for the rehabilitation process.
“Ninety-nine percent come back,” Shirey said. “What we hope to do in each community we go in is hopefully not only get the athletes, but the parents, the grandparents and the aunts and uncles, too. Obviously I’m an athletic trainer, but I’m more of a marketer using my athletic training skills.”
Of course, local student-athletes could choose to utilize an out-of-town company for their rehabilitative needs, but according to Shirey, that would mean the end of the road for the prep sports aspect of not just his job, but the jobs of all certified athletic trainers in Cullman County.
“If every single kid here went to Birmingham for therapy needs, they probably wouldn’t have an athletic trainer at the school anymore,” he said. “As a market, we couldn’t afford to send a salaried athletic trainer out to the schools without any kind of revenue coming in.”
% Editor’s note: Keep an eye out for a story about a Cullman High student athletic trainer with CRMC’s ONE Rehab later this month.