Paul Chermak, licensed athletic trainer employed with Newport High School
By Josh Suman
As fall returns with its changing scenery, brisk Northwest weather and weekends on the gridiron, the urge to toss around the pigskin is never greater. Especially on Thanksgiving.
Whether in a time-honored family tradition full of sibling rivalries and clashing cousins, or at a meet-up with old teammates and friends trying in vain to relive the glory days, few Thanksgiving rituals capture Americana like a Turkey Bowl.
While getting out in the grass is the perfect way to soak in the senses of autumn, football (yes, even the two-hand touch variety) is a risky sport, especially when played by out-of-practice cubicle workers without any pads or formal rules.
The Scene talked with Phil Chermak, a licensed athletic trainer and the go-to guy at Newport High School for all sports injuries, and Karla Cararas, a physical therapist at Peak Sports and Spine in Factoria and athletic trainer for around 20 years in the area. Both helped offer some helpful tips that will keep you in the game, and out of the emergency room, this Thanksgiving.
Wear a mouthgard
It certainly won’t make trash-talking your less-athletic cousin any easier, but wearing a mouthguard is required with good reason on the football field.
The National Federation of State High School Associations mandates the mouthguard at the prep level and for as little as a couple bucks at a sporting goods store, you can potentially avoid thousands of dollars in dental work when you take the field with your friends and relatives for some Turkey Day glory.
“No one wants to knock out a tooth right after Thanksgiving dinner,” Cararas said. “If you’re going to play tackle, at least wear a mouthguard.”
Wear cleats or proper shoes
You wouldn’t wear Crocs to a construction site, or sandals to the office, and the same should be true for the gridiron. It isn’t important to go out and grab the newest pair of Nikes showcased on the feet of your favorite college team. Even that old pair of molded cleats you used for co-ed softball are better than flat-soled shoes that Chermak said can leave you more susceptible to losing footing, which leads to ankle and knee sprains.
“Cleats are actually pretty important,” he said. “When you get that twisting motion, that is when you are going to get hurt.”
Don’t ignore old injuries: If that shoulder or knee was bad before, chances are it hasn’t gotten any better without treatment and continued rehabilitation.
“A lot of people have something that is nagging and is minor,” Cararas said. “When they hurt it again, it becomes a major problem.”
Warm up and stretch beforehand
Everyone knows the guy or gal who shows up to the field, grabs the ball and excitedly proclaims, “Well what are we waiting for?” before ever stretching a single muscle. Usually, that person is easily recognized, laid out on the sidelines two plays into the game with a sore hamstring.
“You never really think you are too tight until you have hurt yourself,” Chermak said. “It takes a good 30 seconds of holding a stretch to get any benefit out of it.”
Regardless of the pace and intensity of the game, warming up the muscles is critically important for avoiding injury – and stretching can be a saving grace, especially for those who find themselves a little out of practice.
Remember, it’s just a game
It may feel like the whole world is watching you on third-and-long with the game on the line, but it isn’t. Listen to your body, grab a few breathers and make sure to pace yourself. Find some time to hit the field and build up stamina in the weeks before the game.
“A lot of people don’t run backwards until they are out there playing football,” Cararas said. “Do some squats, some sprints, some agilities. If you’re throwing, go out and throw before you get out there.”
Chermak added that even a seemingly small amount of physical conditioning can go a long way for someone out of practice.
“It is a good idea to get in shape a month in advance,” he said. “Maybe a jog or even a walk for an hour or so.”