On a recent Wednesday morning in late August, Scott Kozlowski stands near the top of a ladder. With a mask over his face, he brushes dust off pipes in Gar-Field High School’s weight room.
At the moment, he’s in there by himself surrounded by some fitness machines and lots of open space as he spearheads a much-needed renovation. For the last two months, this has been Kozlowski’s job. It started with moving items to a back storage room and now has led to cleaning pipes in preparing the ceiling for a new coat of paint.
As the dust floats through the air, Kozlowski jokes that this task is like an episode of “Dirty Jobs,” the television program where the host performs messy duties.
Seeing Kozlowski up on the ladder, Kenny Miller, Gar-Field’s baseball coach, sticks his head through an opening and asks a relevant question given Kozlowski’s main job title at Gar-Field is athletic trainer.
“How did you get stuck with this job?” Miller asks.
Kozlowski responds in a self-deprecating way: “I volunteered for it.”
Usually at this time of year, Kozlowski is on the football practice field, making sure that athletes are, among other responsibilities, hydrated or iced down under the hot sun. But as a safety measure designed to protect staff and players alike during the coronavirus pandemic, the Virginia High School League delayed the start of 2020-21 sports season until mid-December.
With extra time on his hands and no athletes to tend to, Kozlowski presented a plan to Gar-Field’s administrators to revamp a section requiring a long overdue makeover. That’s how he ended up down in the building’s bottom floor, availing himself to anything Gar-Field needed at the moment.
“You do whatever you can,” Kozlowski said. “This is not a time to draw a line in the sand.”
With high school sports on hold, Kozlowski is asked all the time how he stays busy. He understands the question, but he explains that he’s more than just a trainer even under normal circumstances.
“Athletic trainers don’t just tape ankles,” Kozlowski said.
Besides clearing out the weight room, Kozlowski has helped with field maintenance, purchasing orders and other miscellaneous items.
Gar-Field activities director Mike Payne calls Kozlowski his right-hand man.
“He’s a team player, every bit of it,” Payne said.
This is a transitional time for local trainers.
To further his education and improve his level of knowledge, Hylton athletic trainer Brandon Holland used his down time this summer to enroll in Concordia University online to receive a second doctorate. Dr. Holland, as he is known, earned his first doctorate in 2017 in athletic training. This degree is in human performance.
“It was something I was considering, but with the shut down, I took advantage of it,” Holland said.
Schedules for the county athletic trainers will return more to sports starting Sept. 10 when county schools are able to begin out-of-season workouts. The plan was approved by the superintendent’s staff at the Aug. 19 school board meeting.
For the moment, the workouts are limited to conditioning and must take place only outdoors and with no equipment. Trainers and activities directors at each school are working together to create a plan that meets all the safety requirements, while staggering schedules to get the fall, winter and spring sports teams time together after the school day finishes.
“We’re beginning the process of getting back to what they are supposed to do,” Kozlowski said. “This is new to all of us. We’re getting the handle of it.”
County high school athletic trainers have prepared themselves for whenever sports resumes and in whatever fashion. During the spring when school was closed, they met together virtually once a week. Once the out-of-season plan was approved, the trainers continued to meet with county school officials to make sure they understood the process.
Once athletes arrive for workouts, the trainers will be the point people along with coaches to ensure everything is in compliance from social distancing to filled out paperwork.
“I’m looking forward to resuming, but I want people to stay safe,” Holland said.
Patriot trainer Toby McCullough agreed.
“I’m comfortable with the protocols we have in place,” McCullough said. “My biggest fear is there’s an outbreak of some sort. We can control the two hours [the kids] are with us. But the other 22 hours we can’t control.”
Another change for trainers this school year is they no longer teach classes in addition to their athletic training duties.
“I can just focus on one job instead of two,” McCullough said. “The actual athletic training part of it isn’t any different. I can just focus on that without having to worry about grading papers, creating lectures and other teacher stuff. We’re still putting in normal contract hours. The hours are just different than everyone else. We had quite a few people before who were just getting burned out and we had quite a bit of turnover the last few years. With all the COVID guidelines and procedures we will have to implement this year that extra time certainly will be useful.”