By Jim Catalano
Jim Catalano is an Associate Editor at Training & Conditioning.
Training & Conditioning, 12.6, September 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1206/atcasset.htm
When she arrived to serve as Muskego (Wis.) High School’s athletic trainer in 1998, Rachel Kuntz, LAT, made it a point to reach out—and she’s never stopped. Reaching out meant forming relationships, not just with student-athletes and their parents, but also coaches, administrators, and even faculty members.
“I wanted to build a rapport with everyone,” she says. “Luckily, it didn’t take me too long to do that, and I’ve enjoyed my time there with everybody. It’s a great atmosphere to work in.”
Kuntz’s people and professional skills have impressed many at Muskego, including Head Strength Coach Mike Nitka, MS, CSCS. “Rachel has a knack for establishing a relationship,” he says. “It’s a professional and courteous one, but I think the student-athletes and parents trust her, and they value her opinion. She knows what she’s doing.”
Adds Scott Kugi, Muskego High School Athletic Director: “She does a tremendous job, and our coaches, athletes, and parents all place a tremendous amount of trust and value in her opinion and her expertise.”
Always willing to put in as much time as necessary to fulfill her duties, Kuntz, who’s based out of Lakeshore Medical Clinic in Muskego, then spends hours beyond that at the school. “Athletic trainers put in an inordinate amount of time on the job. When everyone else is at home, they’re out there working,” Kugi says. “Rachel always does it with a smile, and with tremendous respect for her profession.
“In Wisconsin, the weather is tenuous in the spring,” Kugi continues. “It can be difficult to reschedule games, and sometimes we have to do it at the drop of a hat. Even though Rachel also sees clients at her clinic, I can honestly say that I don’t recall a time we had an eleventh-hour makeup where she wasn’t able to rearrange her clinic schedule to be here on-site. She is just outstanding.”
For consistently going beyond her required duties, Kuntz receives Training & Conditioning’s Above the Call Award.
As for her dedication to the student-athletes, Kuntz says it comes naturally. “I try to make myself available whenever they need me,” she says. “If it means coming in a little early or staying a little later, I don’t have any second thoughts about doing that. That’s the best way to show you care about their programs and their athletes.
“I guess it’s just because I like helping people,” she continues. “I want to see everyone achieve their best, and I’m never going to say no to anyone who needs my help.”
Kuntz immediately began making her mark when she came to Muskego. “She put up a sign outside her office that said, ‘certified athletic trainer,’” Nitka says. “The kids would give her respect knowing that she had done something to earn that extra credential.”
She also upgraded the school’s sports medicine facilities. “She took an empty room and turned it into our athletic training room,” Nitka says. “It basically was a closet, but with her expertise and direction she’s made it a good facility. It was pretty much an effort on her own.”
Accessibility is an ongoing goal for Kuntz, who solves the problem, in part, by making the rounds of team practices whenever she’s at Muskego High School. “She’ll start with whichever team needs the most attention, move on to the other teams, and then end up in her office,” Nitka says. “The coaches like that, and the kids feel confident when they see her making the rounds.
“She also watches the games and matches, which is part of her duties, and I think she also enjoys seeing the kids compete,” he continues. “That gives her a chance to try to understand why some of them might be getting hurt on a repeat basis and figure out what she can suggest they do so they don’t get injured again.”
According to Nitka, Kuntz treats all the student-athletes equally, whether they’re seniors or sophomores, starters or role players. “She makes time for everyone who comes into her office,” Nitka says. “She’s willing to share her information on athletic training with students and coaches as she’s working with them. She’ll explain what’s going on and why. Not everyone would take the time to do that. Some want to fix something and get them back out there, but she’ll actually take the time to talk with them.”
Kuntz occasionally volunteers as an assistant in the weight room. “She likes to come in when she can,” Nitka says, “especially when I’m doing certain things she’s curious about, like why this guy needs to do things this way. She’ll question me on why I do things, and I ask her what she would do as an athletic trainer. Between the two of us, we come up with procedures that are pretty rock-solid as far as the safety of our kids goes.”
Nitka also runs an annual speed development camp, and Kuntz volunteers as his athletic trainer. “I don’t get paid extra or anything. I just do it for fun,” she says. “I enjoy being around the students, and, again, it helps to build relationships with the parents and coaches if they see you there.”
Kuntz says the most satisfying aspect of working at Muskego is “knowing that I have gained the respect and trust of the student-athletes. I’m not just their athletic trainer, I’m kind of like their friend, too. They come to me for things besides injuries, which is neat. And when I do have injured athletes, it’s great to be able to help them out and then see them back on the field.”
In addition to working with student-athletes and coaches, Kuntz makes an extra effort to make herself available to the Muskego faculty members. “People will come up to ask her questions—usually about knees or hips,” Nitka says. “She’ll do a brief review with them, then refer them to her clinic. But they like that she’s so accessible to them.”
Darin Maccoux, MD, team physician at Muskego High School and director of sports medicine at the Lakeshore Medical Clinic, agrees: “The administration has been quite happy with Rachel,” he says. “I have quite a lot of them as my private patients and part of that is a direct result of the relationship that Rachel has developed. So they’re quite pleased with her.
“In fact, the school has extended the contract to have her on-site for another five years,” he continues. “And they’ve expanded it, so next year, she’ll be out at the school five days a week, plus game coverage, versus the three days plus game coverage she’s had so far. It’s a tribute to her work ethic that the administration was willing to commit that amount of time and expense to have her serve as an athletic trainer in that capacity.”
Kuntz’s next goal is to start a sports medicine and athletic training program for interested Muskego students, which is why she’s going back to school to earn a teaching certificate. “I’ve had a lot of students come up to me and ask me questions about the classes you need to take to become an athletic trainer,” she says. “They have no idea, and when I tell them they look at me with blank stares. So I try to explain what the classes are and tell them, ‘If you like this and this, then it’s a great thing to go into. But it’s a lot of hard work.’ I think if you could offer a few basic classes in the subject in high school, not only will it help them all around in their futures, but it’s something different and interesting, too.”
There’s no doubt that Kuntz’s enthusiasm toward her job has captured the interest of many students, according to Kugi. “Kids are saying to her, ‘You’re good at athletic training and you seem to enjoy it, so it might be something I want to go into someday,’” he says. “If it works out in starting up the program, she would be passing along the torch to these kids.”