Dave App had aspirations of playing professional sports when he was younger.
He always envisioned himself someday on the biggest stages either as a baseball or soccer player. Like many young athletes that age, it became apparent to App that those goals were not realistic for him.
While App's love of all things sports didn't lead directly towards his dream, it did steer him towards something that he now enjoys on a daily basis — helping high school athletes.
The path to accomplishing that has come via one of the less recognized, but equally important, aspects of high school athletics as an athletic trainer. App is the head athletic trainer, or colloquially known as AT, at Dover High School, where he has been since 2012.
"I really enjoy it," he said. "I didn't really want a job where I sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen all day."
App's start in AT: At first App did not believe he would enjoy working for a high school. Instead, he aspired to be an AT for either a professional soccer club or even at a Division I college.
"When I was in college at Temple or even in my first year of grad school at the University of South Carolina, I was super-opposed to working at a high school," App said. "I just thought dealing with minors would limit what I could do and that high schools don't have the same budgets and just that working at a college or with a professional team that I could do so much more."
Part of those beliefs were reinforced during his first year at South Carolina. App was a graduate assistant AT for the school's football team, which was coached at that time by the legendary Steve Spurrier.
Destiny, however, helped disprove those sentiments the next season, as App was assigned to a local high school near Columbia, South Carolina.
"After a few days there, I thought, 'wow, this is great'," he said. "I really enjoyed it. And after grad school the school district that I was in actually hired me on to be the head athletic trainer."
App, who himself is a Dover graduate, spent just one year at that school in South Carolina before returning back to the area. He worked at Red Lion for over three years before taking his current position at Dover.
About the job: App’s biggest role is helping to ensure that athletes at Dover are as healthy as possible. Sometimes that is done by implementing a stretching program for an athletic team to use during warm-ups. Other times that means dealing with a minor injury like a twisted ankle or wrist. There are also those times when he’s helping to stop a bloody nose, which is somewhat frequent during wrestling season.
Most of the time, however, App is just waiting for something to happen. For ATs, that period is known by a short phrase – hurry up and wait.
“I know that a lot of times it looks like we don’t really do anything,” he said. “Because we’re just sitting there or standing around, but that’s good. I always tell everyone that if I’m not doing anything, that means that kids aren’t hurt.”
While those aspects of the job are more routine for a veteran AT such as App, there are those difficult times when a major injury happens. Those types of injuries often occur in football, but it also happens in other sports such as soccer, basketball and even tennis.
“In the last five years, we’ve had some fairly significant and sometimes gruesome injuries,” App said. “We’ve had a dislocated hip, a fracture leg, a dislocated ankle where the foot looks like it’s turned around backwards. So they can get pretty nasty.”
The recovery and rehabilitation from those types of injuries is perhaps the biggest role that ATs like App play at the high school level. And while the time spent doing so goes under-the-radar from the general public, it is arguably one of the most important roles that an AT takes on.
Rewarding job: While the work of rehabbing injuries and dealing with multiple individuals with different ailments all at once can certainly be stressful, the days when those athletes return to the court, diamond or field are the times that App feels most rewarded in the profession.
“To see them return and get back is always the best feeling,” he said.
While at times it can feel like a thankless job, sometimes the athletes give back to their ATs in ways that will never be forgotten. That certainly was the case with App a few years ago.
“We did have a girl a few years ago who tore her ACL during a soccer game,” App said. “And she took our sports medicine class the next year, and Lauren (Craig), who teaches a sports medicine class, has the kids write a paper about if they ever experienced a sports injury, what did it feel like and stuff like that.
"The girl wrote about her ACL injury and in it she wrote that ‘Trainer Dave came out and told me that I probably tore my ACL, but I knew that I’d be OK because (App) was there to take care of me’. And she actually ended up thanking me at Senior Night as part of her speech, which meant a lot.”
Note: March is the official month to recognize athletic trainers around the nation. The National Athletic Trainers Association has dubbed March "National Athletic Training Month."
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.