Catawba College may have to get a bigger trophy case just to house all of the awards collected by longtime Head Athletic Trainer Robert Casmus, MS, LAT, ATC, EMT. Last year, he was named an NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer, which will fit nicely alongside his NCAA Division II College and University Athletic Trainer of the Year and North Carolina College and University Athletic Trainer of the Year awards.
Casmus's continuing recognition is a result of his unwavering commitment to the profession. At Catawba, he oversees a five-person staff charged with providing coverage to 17 teams and teaches two courses. He is also a member of the school's emergency response team, and last year he spearheaded the establishment of an Athletic Training Hall of Fame. Off campus, Casmus served on the NATA Public Relations Committee from 1998 to 2005 and is currently in the midst of his second term as a member of the North Carolina Board of Athletic Trainer Examiners and the NATA College and University Athletic Trainers Committee.
Casmus began his career as Head Athletic Trainer at Chowan College in 1985, and was hired as Head Athletic Trainer at Catawba in 1990. In this interview, he talks about the biggest issue currently facing collegiate athletic trainers, why teaching future coaches about athlete safety is so important, and the keys to staying connected with alumni.
T&C: What's unique about working at a Division II school?
Casmus: The main benefit is that athletic trainers at this level have a little more autonomy. It seems that at the Division I level, athletic trainers often report to the head coach, which can put extra pressure on them. At Catawba, athletic trainers report directly to the athletic director, so if I make a decision about a player, I don't have to worry about a coach saying, "I'm going to overrule you on this." Budgets are another big issue and we have to make sure every penny counts when we spend on supplies.
At Catawba, the athletic trainers are 10-month employees. Do you really get to take two months off every year?
There are still things that I need to take care of, like paperwork, ordering supplies, and making sure everything is shipped to us on time. I usually come into the office for three hours a day three to four days a week. That being said, I do take some time off during the summer and spend it playing golf and being with my family. It's nice to have an opportunity to recharge my batteries after a long school year.
You've been on a number of national and state committees over the years. Why is working on them so important to you?
In any profession, you need to be involved and strive to make a difference. Too many people want to sit on the sidelines and let others do that kind of work. But those are the same people who also question the NATA or their state association when a decision is made they don't agree with. I never wanted to be the guy questioning those decisions, and being involved with the committees is the best way to ensure that doesn't happen.
What advice would you give athletic trainers interested in committee work?
Start small. Get involved locally or at the state level. Then, as you prove yourself and become more comfortable, opportunities will arise and you'll be asked to do more. Don't join a committee just so you can add it to your resume. If you're on a committee, you have the opportunity to be a voice for those you represent. Take advantage of that and make a difference.
What is the biggest challenge facing collegiate athletic trainers today?
We really need to push for our administrators to embrace the NATA's Recommendations and Guidelines for Appropriate Medical Coverage of Intercollegiate Athletics. We have to show athletic directors that if schools want proper healthcare and athlete safety concerns attended to, then having adequate staffing is paramount. If a school with five athletic trainers has half a dozen games going on as well as a handful of teams practicing at the same time, that means some teams are not getting the coverage and care they need. Also, injured athletes probably aren't able to do the rehab work they need, which can be just as important as covering a game or event.
How do you balance being an academic instructor with your athletic training duties?
At Catawba, we have an accredited athletic training program, so all of the athletic trainers here also teach, but the college does a nice job of making sure we're not overloaded with classes. I only teach one class each semester--a first aid course in the fall and a sports healthcare class for coaching majors in the spring. Our teams are practicing and playing seven days a week, and if we're all teaching six hours a day, there's no time left over for us to do our primary jobs.
Why did you decide to teach the class to future coaches?
Only 40 percent of high schools have an athletic trainer, so coaches need to be aware of the risks that their athletes face because they might not have an athletic trainer covering their games. The goal of the course isn't to make the students into athletic trainers, but to give them a basic background. I make sure they're aware of the dangers and warning signs of heat stroke and a concussion, for example. I want them to have enough information so when they are coaching they can look at a player and say, "You can't play anymore. We need to get you to a hospital."
Your department has a policy that outlines the responsibilities for student-athletes in the athletic training major. Why was this necessary?
Sometimes, when coaches recruit a student-athlete, they only see a student and an athlete. But being an athletic training major comes with added responsibility that doesn't always go hand-in-hand with being on a collegiate team. Their clinical experiences take place during practices and games. So if they're playing a sport, they often miss out on those opportunities to get hands-on experience. The policy states that during the season the athlete's first priority is their team, but that in the off-season, they need to focus on the athletic training education program.
Has it been effective?
It has. Our coaches recognize and embrace that being an athletic training major and an athlete at the same time is a major time commitment and we needed to compromise to allow the athletes a chance to catch up to their classmates.
What are Catawba Athletic Training Days?
These are part of the school's general admissions day. We host an open house and invite high school students who are interested in athletic training to come. We go over the course curriculum, give them a tour of our facilities, and have our alumni speak about how they've used the education they got here.
What sorts of things do the alumni talk about?
We like to emphasize the number of different routes your career can take with an athletic training degree. In addition to becoming athletic trainers in the traditional sense, we've had alumni go on to be physician's assistants, physical therapists, and professors in the field. It makes the students more aware of who we are and what we can offer them, and it's much more effective than a brochure sitting in a guidance counselor's office.
Why did you establish an Athletic Training Hall of Fame at Catawba last year?
We've had over 150 graduates and so many have gone on to be successful and do great things, but unless they were a standout athlete who was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame, there was no way for them to be recognized by the athletic department. I think it's important to honor the alumni athletic trainers who have excelled since graduating.
How important is it to foster a connection between alumni and the athletic training education program?
It's very important, not only for the athletic training program, but for the college as well. It's great to see the students come back and attend on-campus events such as homecoming. A lot of our fundraising dollars come from our alumni, so it's important that we continue communicating with them after graduation. We send out a newsletter every summer letting them know about any changes or updates to the program, and if they send us a donation, we always write a thank-you note and send it right away. It's almost like a coach recruiting an athlete. You have to keep at it.
What are your keys to maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
It helps that I have a very supportive spouse, because my hours are usually long. Often, my day will start at 8 a.m. and not end until late at night. My wife Teresa has always supported what I've done, which makes it much easier. It also helps to have something you love doing outside of work. I coach my son's Little League team and I love it. We've always bonded over baseball, and coaching is my opportunity to continue doing that. As I've gotten further along in my career, I've learned how to avoid overextending myself by saying no to some requests.