The excitement of football season is cut short for some injured athletes; pulled from the starting line and sent straight to the bench, these high school athletes are deprived of the opportunity to participate in their respective seasons to improve their skills. Of course, football is not the only sport where athletes suffer long-term injury. In fact, Mr. Giantonnio, an athletic trainer at RHS, says he, “actually see[s] a lot less football injuries, believe it or not, than [he] do[es] in other sports.” Of the injuries he does see, exterior ankle sprains are the most common. Ankle sprains account for “60-70 percent of injuries” with shoulder injuries and concussions falling close behind. Despite treating athletes throughout each season, Giantonnio says that, “when it comes to not only performance, but also injury prevention and management, we’re one of the few states that most schools have full time athletic trainers.” Due to this accessibility, injuries are not as prevalent at RHS as they are in other high schools. For injured athletes, recovery can be as simple as conscious care. Senior Declan Scanlon (football, lacrosse) dealt with tendonitis in his ankles by going to physical therapy and stretching. Not all athletes are as lucky as Scanlon, many undergo extensive rehabilitation programs and are removed from their respective sports for long periods of time. For some, medication is necessary to treat their injuries, and if this medication is abused, a physical recovery can become a mental recovery as well.
Abuse of prescription drugs among high school athletes tends to start with an injury. When athletes are prescribed medicine, extra pills often remain after treatment, leaving dangerously addictive pain relieving medication in their cabinets. As Crisis Counselor Mr. Feeley says, “With drugs, you don’t feel pain. You also don’t feel stress or much of anything really, which for an adolescent tied up in emotional knots, feels wonderful.” The stress of high school and a teen’s emotional burden can easily result in students reverting back to pain medication as an escape. For injured athletes who have a lot of physical pain, “it’s really difficult [to also cope with] emotional stress, and pain associated with losing out on something you dedicate your life to” (Feeley). Besides the risks of prescribing prescription drugs to young athletes, Giantonnio says, “Prescription drugs include NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which are anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce swelling are crucial to the rehabilitation process.” Despite this critical element to recovery, Feeley argues that “Vicodin, and pain relieving drugs like that, are contraindicated in my book; they shouldn’t be used at all.” To distinguish between this fine line of necessity and danger, Feeley concludes that we simply “have to be more careful about who has those medicines and even if those prescriptions should be filled.”
Although the history of drug addiction among RHS athletes may not be large, it is necessary to recognize the possibility of such a situation in the RHS community. Feeley points to depression as a an indication of drug use, stating that depression is being used to “mask the use of drugs; however, people can be depressed and not use drugs.” According to Feeley, “addiction is a short-circuiting of one’s personal growth and potential…Nobody ever said, my life was horrible until I discovered heroin.”
Although “people just don’t really talk about [prescription drugs] no one jokes [about them either]” (Scanlon). The intensity of RHS athletics keeps most athletes too busy to be distracted by drugs. Giantonnio agrees that “athletics is a good deterrent for a lot of kids because it takes up a lot of their time and a lot of what you do here is very strenuous so if you’re going to get high it’s going to be very difficult to perform.” For Scanlon, being a part of a team makes his athletic involvement rewarding, “Getting feedback from my team and coach is supportive….When someone tells you that you’re doing something right it motivates you to do better and keep going. But if someone tells you you’re doing something wrong, you have to step it up which only helps you to improve.” In the Ridgewood community, “athletics does more than just what we think of as performing and scoring touchdowns. The camaraderie amongst the kids and amongst the parents, and what it takes as an individual to achieve a common goal as a team offers so much to [the students]” (Giantonnio). This positive environment gives students opportunities that stretch beyond Ridgewood. According to Giantonnio, many students go on to higher levels of athletics, stating that “other coaches throughout the country say that they can spot a Bergen county kid from a mile away.”
While the RHS community thrives on a strong athletic foundation, this overwhelming positivity makes it easy for individuals to fall between the cracks. For students struggling with addiction themselves, Feeley advises to, “Stop what you are doing. Realize that you are someone’s child.” For students who know a friend or classmate who may be struggling with addiction or depression, he reinforces the “3 step process. You ACT: Acknowledge what is going on with them and make no apologies for doing so. Tell them you are about them and make no apologies for that. You and that person make a pact to tell someone else. After all, ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets’, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous. Don’t keep secrets.”
Whether you play a sport or not, you, as an RHS student, are on the “front lines all the time.” You are responsible for the safety of our school, so strive to keep the motivating environment of RHS as positive as is.
Graphics: Jacqueline Weibye