GREENSBORO — Student-athletes aren’t the only ones impacted by Guilford County Schools’ decision to push back athletics workouts again because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The certified athletic trainers who help keep them healthy at the district’s 15 high schools have seen their jobs change or have been furloughed since sports were shut down in March.
“I get that sports are canceled,” says a trainer who asked not to be identified so that it would easier to speak freely, “but I am a medical professional and I never, ever thought that the medical profession would ever be furloughed or possibly even laid off in a pandemic, especially a health pandemic.”
The certified athletic trainers work for GCS under contracts that four orthopedic practices have with the school district. GCS pays $14,955 per trainer per year for those services, county athletics director Leigh Hebbard says, and the orthopedic practices then pay and provide benefits to the trainers.
The seven trainers who work for Murphy Wainer Orthopedic were furloughed at the end of March. Since then they have been eligible for federal unemployment benefits under the CARES Act, but they have had to continue to pay the premiums that would have been deducted from their paychecks to maintain health insurance through Murphy Wainer with that money. Those federal benefits expired Saturday.
“With that ending it’s going to be very hard to make ends meet,” says another trainer who asked not to be identified, “so I’ll have to look at some other options to bring in some sort of income.”
Some trainers have found part-time work, but others have been turned down for jobs because they were “overqualified” or didn’t have “customer service experience.”
“It’s shameful when I can’t get a job at Target,” one trainer says.
The other eight trainers work for EmergeOrtho, Guilford Orthopaedic or Wake Forest Baptist Health. Those trainers were “redeployed” to other duties, such as screening of incoming patients or contract tracing of patients with positive COVID-19 tests.
Darcy Parizek, an administrator with Murphy Wainer, said the decision to furlough the seven trainers it supplies to Guilford County was a simple business decision.
“Once they closed the schools,” Parizek adds, “then there was no access and no athletics events. They will be rehired the minute we get the word that school athletics are back on. We’ve been in a holding pattern here and were ready to go in July, but then (athletics workouts) were delayed and now there’s been a second delay.”
One Murphy Wainer trainer was hired back by an affiliated practice, Guilford Orthopaedic, but in a different role. Guilford Orthopaedic did not furlough the trainer it supplies to Eastern Guilford.
For those not working, it wasn’t just challenging financially. It was challenging emotionally.
“I really struggled in the beginning,” one trainer says of the lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic. “I don’t want to say it’s my identity, but it’s so much a part of you.”
That’s what happens when you work year-round in a service profession that impacts a lot of people every day.
The certified athletic trainers at GCS high schools would typically work Monday through Thursday during the summer at their school and spend the rest of their hours at Murphy Wainer’s clinic assisting physicians. During August when official practices can be held, a full work day can add up to 12 hours or more. During the school year, the schedule varies based on the competition and practice schedules, but Thursday and Friday nights are almost always taken up by junior varsity and varsity football games.
Those work hours definitely add up, but so do the hours shared with students, coaches and parents.
“You become a little family,” one trainer says, “so when it’s robbed from you and it’s out of your control, it just sucks. It gives you a sense of purpose.”
With COVID-19 numbers still high in Guilford County, no one can say when the school district will allow sports workouts and marching band practices again. But when they do resume, it will provide not only a financial lift but an emotional lift to the certified athletic trainers who work with students on a daily basis.
“Seeing my goofy kids and the crazy shenanigans that they get into brings a smile to my face on the days that are very rough,” a trainer says. “They’re also the same people that make me pull my hair out, but I really do miss my kids.”