Monday, December 29, 2008

Roaming the Cavalier, Shrine Bowl sidelines

(First published in the Morganton News-Herald, Dec. 21st, 2008)

On the practice field Monday morning, East Burke High School's Tyler Shatley lay on the ground, apparently injured from the previous play. On the sidelines was the familiar face of Tracy Hefner, the athletic trainer also from East Burke. The practice was for this year's Shrine Bowl. Hefner walked to assist Shatley and helped him off the practice field after he had twisted his knee. Two plays later, the second fullback for the North Carolina squad was also hurt. Hefner now had 2 players to assist and half the team's offense in his hands. Both individuals were treated, encouraged and sent back on the field. The head coach Gary Fowler from Cary High School was relieved to see his offensive players back on the field.

Tracy Hefner, also known as Tracy or Coach around the East Burke Cavalier campus has been a teacher in Burke County since 1993 after graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in History and an apprenticeship in sports medicine. Hefner was no stranger to East Burke since he graduated in1988, having spent most of his high school life on the Cavalier sidelines, not as an athlete but as a student trainer for three years under head trainer Bob Bliss. He is a fixture around the campus and over the years Hefner has worked for 5 principals and over 20 different coaches in their prospective sports.

Monday was the first day of practice for the players of this years Shrine Bowl game. The game matches up the best high school football players from North and South Carolina. These are the players that you have all read about or seen on television. They are their respective schools pride and joy star players and most are college bound. Hefner is very much aware of this. He can point out most of the players and tell you who they are and where they may be going to play college football. He is also aware that any injuries will ruin a prospective scholarship as well.

Hefner has been an active member of the N.C. Athletic Trainers Association for many years and is currently serving a third term on their board of directors. He was chosen for his permanent position as Athletic Trainer for the NC Shrine Bowl team at the end of the 2004 game. As Tracy puts it, the outgoing trainer, John Burney, "had me on the sidelines for the game and when the game was over, turned over the keys and left me to do the field cleanup."

As part of his permanent position, Tracy also gets to select another individual from the state as an invited trainer. He likes to make the invitation phone calls at a time when the individuals are in a least expecting it. This years invitee, Lynn Bundy, from John A. Holmes High School in Edenton says she got her call in the middle of class. Hefner has also made the call during the dinner hour with small children involved. "He is just a different individual who loves what he does, but does it his way," says Bundy.

Most people who don't know Tracy Hefner, but have been around him at any give time may think that he is outspoken and rude. He has an opinion on just about anything. Bundy says she has know him for many years and that most people don't get his dry humor. She also said he was much smarter than most people gave him credit and to never ask him about politics! She said that she remembered one time he was teaching a summer clinic, he walked into the classroom wearing a plastic bucket on his head. When he took it off, he made the statement to the class that he was illustrating how it felt the first day of football practice after putting a helmet on for the first time.

I spent the day with Hefner at the Shrine Bowl practice on Wednesday and fortunately, there were no injuries. Tracy made his way around the field stopping and moving on and always watching the players. While we were watching the second round of practice, Hefner noticed that the kicker, Matt Millisor, from Page High School in Greensboro looked bored. He made a comment that the poor kickers should get to do their 10 minutes of practice and then go back and play video games because they were so bored. Hefner made his way over to Millisor to talk with him as he had one knee on the ground, helmet in hand. That's just how Hefner operates. He could not stand that the place kicker was to be so honored chosen for the Shrine Bowl team but he now looked bored.

As I was watching and observed what Tracy "does", I noticed he did not do that much on a slow day but was corrected to know that on Monday night after 2 very long first day practices they worked late in the evening on many players, some of whom had not played in over 5 weeks. I guess the life of a trainer is under appreciated to the casual observer. It was put to me in another way by Lynn Bundy. She says, "If we do our job right, you shouldn't know we are here". That goes a long way with most people, but not with Hefner. He always makes it known that he is in the room offering up opinions about anything, but when it comes to his "night" job, he prefers to be invisible.

The next time you are around East Burke High attending a sporting event, make an effort to find Tracy roaming around the complex on call as always. If you can't seem to find him, just look for the guy in his trademark shorts even in the coldest winter evenings because Hefner always does it his way.