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Athletic training

Registration opened in March for the first students to begin classes this fall

SMC Creates New Degree in Athletic Training/Sports Medicine

Published on June 22, 2023 - 9 a.m.

Dean of Nursing and Health Services Melissa Kennedy, DNP, CNE, began developing Southwestern Michigan College’s new Associate in Arts in Athletic Training/Sports Medicine degree almost immediately after the Board of Trustees on July 22, 2020, unanimously authorized the return of NJCAA men’s and women’s cross country for Fall 2021.

The action came after a 25-year absence and marked the 40th anniversary of the Roadrunners’ fifth NJCAA National Championship in 1981.

Not only did the Roadrunners run again, but in keeping with an ongoing mission of providing affordable, high-quality education, including the total college life experience, trustees the following May 12 further authorized resurrecting four additional sports for Fall 2022: men’s and women’s basketball (1994 national champions), women’s volleyball and men’s wrestling.

New additions included a bass fishing team, a women’s competitive dance team, the Lady Birds, and a pep band.

Athletic training and sports medicine “are not the same,” Kennedy said, “but the pathway to get there can be. Sports medicine evaluates and treats injuries. They’ve been injured and they’re rehabbing. Trainers try to prevent injuries from happening in the beginning. (SMC’s) Elise (Bancroft) is an athletic trainer. Many high schools, like Edwardsburg, have athletic trainers.”

Registration opened in March for the first students to begin classes this fall.

The Associate in Arts in Athletic Training/Sports Medicine degree is designed to transfer to four-year institutions toward a bachelor’s degree. Nearly all states require athletic trainers to hold a license or certification, though requirements vary by state.

“The second I heard (President) Dr. Joe (Odenwald) says sports are coming, it was, ‘We need athletic training.’ I knew Elkhart Area Career Center (which serves juniors and seniors from 12 Indiana school districts and Edwardsburg in Michigan) has athletic training and I know from having kids growing up through high school sports that they are drawn to it because they want to continue in sports,” Kennedy said. “A lot of kids in our area are getting scholarships to four-year private schools. Their programs are more exercise science, another beginning pathway to athletic training or physical therapy.”

“I’m so excited about this program,” she said. “I can’t wait, honestly, to help grow athletics.”


Hands-on clinical experience

“What was most important to me is making sure students following the pathway would get their hands on it so they’d know when they are done at SMC if this is the pathway they really want to follow. We’re trying to draw athletes in, but we didn’t have athletic programs except coaching and sports management. To me, it’s another avenue those interested in athletics can take if they want to continue into that type of career,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s a great way to get another academy that we can introduce that can have high school students in the same classroom with traditional college students. The thought is to share classrooms, so they can be presenting in Dowagiac and displayed in Niles’ Zoom room,” as is done with business courses.

Clinicals will be a two-stage process, Kennedy said.

“The first may be a choice of three settings, whether it be a high school, working with a trainer during football or basketball season; a chiropractor; or an orthopedic surgeon’s office. All of those are related to sports medicine and athletic training,” Kennedy said. “This is the last two semesters. The first clinical is multiple different settings. The second immerses them in the one of those that they really liked.

“By delving deeper, they’ll know their pathway if they go on to a bachelor’s or master’s degree,” she said. “If they follow an athletic training pathway, they might want to go to Grand Valley,” like Bancroft, from Stevensville Lakeshore, who earned a GVSU master’s degree after starting in exercise science.

Kennedy also consulted Cross Country Head Coach Zac Sartori, who has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and a master’s degree in sport and exercise psychology from Northern Illinois University.

“If I’m just interested in exercise science, let’s go to Western,” Kennedy said. “If I’m more interested in sports medicine, Central. If I’m more interested in physical therapy, let’s go to Andrews University. They’re able to see all the avenues. I already have an articulation agreement signed with Western to take all of our credits. They will do their first 61 credits here, which is all the gen eds, leaving just degree-related classes.”

Athletic trainers specialize in health care and wellness, preventing, diagnosing and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses in athletes. They work with coaches, doctors and physical therapists in a variety of settings.

Athletic trainers/sports medicine professionals work to keep athletes functioning at their peak performance, helping prevent and treat injuries that may occur during training, practice or competition. They collaborate daily with physicians and other health professions as part of a team in a variety of work environments, such as colleges or universities, K-12 schools, hospitals, fitness centers, sports medicine clinics and for professional sports teams.

Some run their own business, like SMC graduate Austin Los, who opened 24-hour Cassopolis Fitness Center March 27 at 804 E. State St.

These professionals may even assist corporations with ergonomics or preventing workplace injuries. Because of the nature of their work, athletic trainers who work with sports teams travel often and frequently work evenings and weekends.

To become an athletic trainer requires at least a bachelor’s degree. However, this is a competitive field. More than 70 percent of current athletic trainers hold master’s degrees.

SMC provides a great way to begin your journey at a lower cost, while gaining valuable practical experience. Athletic training/sports medicine students study human anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, nutrition and medical terminology and learn how to develop healthy lifestyles for athletes.

Finally, they apply these skills through hands-on clinical training.

Depending on the employment setting, national average earnings range from $48,070 to $58,750, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2021 median pay.

It’s a dynamic field, with growth 17 percent faster than average projected through 2031.

Kennedy, a 2008 SMC graduate, joined the faculty in 2011 as a part-time instructor, became fulltime in 2015, dean in 2019 and taught medical-surgical and pharmacology courses.

She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bethel University and her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Colorado’s American Sentinel University.