If winning a football state championship is hard, doing it with a team ravaged by injuries is nearly impossible. As the Kenston High School Bombers dominated their way to the first state championship in program history, the team’s athletic training staff worked all season long to keep players on the field and off the training room table.

John Martin Leland, an orthopedic sports surgeon and director of sports medicine at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center, has served as the team doctor for all Kenston athletic teams for the past three years and said student athletes have access to an athletic trainer, concussion specialists, nutritionists and more depending on their needs.

“Basically through UH we have many lines of defense in terms of teams in being able to provide Kenston everything they need and take the best care of each one of their athletes and students and everyone in the community,” he said.

Athletic trainer Viviani McKinney said she works at the high school every day overseeing around 400 student athletes, including teaching a course on athletic training. While she works with all sports, she said during the fall season she spends most of her time with the football team, including injury evaluations, taping and bracing before practices and rehab exercises, icing and stretching after practices.

“We’ve been relatively healthy, and keeping as many guys on the field as we can definitely contributes to the success of the team,” she said. “More players to choose from means more options when that happens, so I do think that’s part of being able to be a successful team.”

The 15-week schedule to win a state championship is grueling on athletes, coaches and the training staff, Dr. Leland said, as the winter sports season was in full swing toward the end of the Bombers’ playoff run.

“We’re still caring for the high school football team that’s doing incredibly well, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to take care of other teams,” he said. “It’s double duty, but we’re more than happy to do it because we’re so excited the Kenston football team has done so well.”

Mrs. McKinney said she worked closely with head coach Jeff Grubich to make sure injuries were prevented at practice as much as possible as the season wore on.

“Coach is really great about knowing when the guys are getting tired or fatigued and adjusting practices. He asks for my input and adjusts practice as necessary if they’re coming in with a lot of pulled muscles or something like that,” Mrs. McKinney said. “He listens to me and takes all the concerns about that kind of stuff, beating up their bodies, into his planning of practice.”

She said her relationship with the players is key, as she knows them well enough that she can tell when they’re hiding injuries to stay on the field.

“Some of the kids you got to protect from themselves. They want to play at all costs,” she said. “I can tell them, ‘I know you want to practice but let’s rest today so you can get ready for Friday.’ I love building that relationship because we do believe it makes me better at my job.”

Dr. Leland said it was rewarding to watch players he had worked with making big contributions during the Bombers’ playoff run. He said one of the players he operated on had a game-changing interception in one of the playoff games.

“Afterwards I went up to him and told him how proud I was for him. I watched him have surgery, recover from surgery, all the time he put into that, grit, pain and just what it takes to be a high level athlete and get back to that level,” Dr. Leland said. “He said, ‘I couldn’t have done it without you,’ and that was fantastic for him to say, but he was the one that put in the blood, sweat and tears. I just did the surgery; I did my job. To see him make that interception, I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.”

Just like at every Bombers game this season, Dr. Leland and Mrs. McKinney were on the sideline at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton last Friday as the Bombers whooped Kettering Archbishop Alter, 42-6. Mrs. McKinney said she was especially happy for the seniors on the team, who were freshmen in the program during her first year as the Kenston trainer.

“Seeing how they’ve grown and built each other up and that brotherhood is just really amazing,” she said. “It’s rewarding to me because I get to see them through their struggles as freshmen and sophomores, many with injuries, spending a lot of time out in their younger years. Seeing them on the field celebrating with the team is just amazing.”

Tim Tedeschi covers the Solon and West Geauga Board of Education, as well as statewide education issues, sports and features. He is a lifelong diehard Cleveland Indians fan and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University.

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