Sunday, August 21, 2005

Staff trainers do much more then tape ankles

by Matt Cordova, Times Sports Writer
First published: Saturday, August 20, 2005

Six years ago, after a Watertown Red and Black equipment box was left behind for a game in Syracuse, Sam Verbeck began living his football life by a checklist.

"I was running around, I had to borrow a screwdriver, hardware and stuff. I was really embarrassed," Verbeck said. "That was the impetus behind the checklists."

Verbeck, a physician's assistant in his eighth season as the head athletic trainer for the Red and Black, does so much more than tape ankles and heal wounds. Thanks to his efforts and those of Michelle Dolmanet and Matt Melvin, head coach George Ashcraft, the coaching staff and the players can concentrate on pursuing an Empire Football League championship.

More often than not, Verbeck, Dolmanet and Melvin arrive at practice before and leave after most players have vacated the locker room. Before Mike Dumaw crushes a quarterback or Doug Black lofts a touchdown pass, the three have already put in hours of work.

Mix the Gatorade, fill water bottles, make sure there is enough tape - the list of things to be done is seemingly endless and routine. Those darn checklists.

But their constant activity means Ashcraft can focus on his players and the game plan.

"You don't have to worry that things aren't done," Ashcraft said.

Thursdays are often one of the most hectic days for the Red and Black, particularly when Saturday's game is on the road, as are the team's next two contests. According to Verbeck, a majority of the preparation for a road trip is completed after Thursday's practice.

"A bin is packed with extra pads, extra tape and we even take an extra helmet," Verbeck said. "We make sure the equipment and medical box is up to snuff, right down to making sure we have enough towels for the players. We make sure I didn't forget stuff.

"Thursday is also last call for equipment fixes. You don't want to have to wait until game time to fix stuff."

Verbeck still is responsible for the medical needs of the players during games and practices. He and Dolmanet, a physical therapist in her third season with the team, now team up to care for the more than 50 Red and Black players. Verbeck said that Dolmanet's expertise has been invaluable to the team.

"She knows all the rehab stuff these guys need to do, and we have a good working relationship," Verbeck said, "I'd really be lost without her."

While Verbeck and Dolmanet are busy preparing the players to stay safe and healthy during a game, 23-year old Melvin is flying around doing anything that is asked of him.

"Spider," as Melvin is known to the team, joined the Red and Black three seasons ago. His desire to be a part of the nation's oldest semipro football team is obvious to the Red and Black. Ashcraft said he offered Melvin a "job" after he saw him hanging around at practices and even showing up to greet the team before a road trip.

"He's a good young man," said Ashcraft, "we don't have to ask him twice to do anything. He does the things people don't notice - like clean up the sidelines, gather equipment - unless you are the one who has to do it."

Melvin enjoys the work he does for the Red and Black. "They are nice people and I enjoy working with them," he said. "Plus, I have made some friends."

All three work for the Red and Black on strictly a volunteer basis. So, what motivates them to give so much time for no financial return?

"I believe they are just true football fans," Ashcraft said.

The coach knows his staff. Said Dolmanet, "I just love football."

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