Injuries can be fatal at small schools like B-A

Sports+injuries+at+BA+often+land+athletes+in+the+trainers+room+and+decimate+sports+teams.

Addy Turek

Sports injuries at BA often land athletes in the trainer’s room and decimate sports teams.

Jack Luensmann, Editor in Chief

Picture an injury occurring  on a collegiate sports team. One player out of the eighty on the roster has to sit out for the rest of the game. The coach puts in the next guy in line as if nothing even happened – no setbacks, no new plays, and no players having to learn new positions.

This isn’t the case for small-town sports like those in Bellwood. The “next man up” mentality on a collegiate or large high school team is in sharp contrast to that of Bellwood-Antis, where the next man up often has little to no varsity experience. And in a time where low participation numbers alone make the selection slim, injuries to players can make winning games even more difficult.

CASE STUDY: FOOTBALL INJURIES DERAIL THE SEASON

Last fall, the Bellwood-Antis football team suffered multiple injuries that had great impact on its performance. After a knee injury in a dirt bike accident in week 7, key lineman Dominic Caracciolo had to watch his teammates from the sideline for the rest of the season.

“It was tough having to watch my teammates knowing I couldn’t do anything to help them,” noted Caracciolo.

Down one lineman, the team looked to juniors Ethan Norris and Andrew Nycum to fill Dominic’s offensive and defensive roles. Before Caracciolo’s injury, Norris filled in at right guard for Cooper Guyer when Guyer was put at fullback, and Nycum played solely on the offensive line at left tackle. When Caracciolo went down, the two juniors filled in for his roles and Guyer, who spent most of his playing time at fullback, had his time in the backfield slashed so he could stay on the line.

“It certainly wasn’t the easiest thing [to learn a new position], but I had to do it because my team needed me,” said Nycum, who had to fill in Caracciolo’s defensive role as well, where he had no experience.

Caracciolo’s injury alone caused chaos with multiple adjustments to the line and players playing positions they had never played before. Add on top the timing: the injury occurred midway through the season, meaning players were learning new positions days before the next game.

All the injuries caused us to make some moves to try and get our best five or six lineman playing,” said head coach Nick Lovrich. “It caused us to move a couple guys to different positions and had us playing guys who did not have a lot of varsity experience. One of the things we try to do is make sure we develop that depth throughout the season.”

In one of the biggest games of the year versus ICC nemesis Juniata Valley, B-A was set back again when center Alex Kovac dislocated his knee early in the first quarter, which sidelined him for the duration of the game. A week before against Mount Union, kicker Dominic Daughenbaugh suffered a shoulder injury, which weakened the Devils even further. These injuries made an uphill playoff battle even tougher for B-A.

Often, we do not have enough numbers to overcome a rash of injuries like larger schools.”

— Head baseball coach Steve Conlon

Despite the multiple setbacks from injuries, Bellwood managed to end the season with a 10-2 record and a second-place finish in the ICC behind Juniata Valley. They lost to Richland in the District 6 2A semifinal game.

We had the depth to recover from one injury, but three at one time was very tough to handle,” added Lovrich. “Injuries are hard to control, so we just had some bad luck this season with them occurring like they did.”

THE MENTAL EFFECTS

Fast forward to winter sports season when the boys basketball team also dealt with its fair share of struggles due to injury. Two-year starter Connor Gibbons had to sit out for the first half of the season after breaking his leg against Richland during football season. Senior Kyler Sweigert missed the season opener against rival Tyrone with a shoulder injury. Sophomore Johnathon Dean suffered a shoulder injury in the first half in the junior varsity game against Tyrone, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

On a roster with only 15 players, those injuries were significant.

Blue Devil head coach Patrick Cassidy believes that injuries have more of a mental effect on a team than physical one.

We try our best to prevent injuries, but they are a part of sports,” he said. “Suffering an injury can impact a team in many different ways, but I think if the player can focus on their recovery and the team can focus on adjusting to fill that void until we can get them back, you can still find success as a team.”

SMALL SCHOOLS SUFFER MORE

Contrast the struggles Bellwood has after sustaining just a few injuries to a 6A school like Altoona, where narrowing down players from tryouts to a sizeable roster is a task of its own.

According to baseball coach Steve Conlon, injuries at places like Bellwood can have a “massive impact.”

“Often, we do not have enough numbers to overcome a rash of injuries like larger schools,” he said.

I would think the bigger schools would have an easier time than a small school like us,” noted Lovrich. “We had about 25 juniors and seniors on our team, who do the majority of the playing. A big school like Altoona may have 40-50 kids in those two classes to pull from, but I am sure there is a drop off for them from their number 1 at a position to their number 2, just not as big of one.”

Coach Cassidy would concur.

At a larger school, you may have more participants to choose from than a smaller school. But once your team is formed, both schools may only have 15-20 guys on a roster,” said Cassidy.

That is where program depth becomes important, Cassidy said. Just as the football team needs a strong foundation with its jayvee team, the basketball team tries to build quality numbers through junior high and elementary programs.

“At a smaller school, I think it is even that much more important to develop your players in elementary school or at an early age,” he said. “Anytime you have smaller numbers (roster size), and you add injuries on top of it, I do think it can be challenging. Moving guys into new roles or different positions is certainly the most challenging. I think that is why it is so important to have a ‘next man up’ mentality and have everyone bought into the team.”

 PREPARE FOR THE WORST

Coach Conlon, wo took the baseball team to the PIAA championship game in 2003, may have the best plan after addressing injuries for more than 20 seasons. Expect it.

Last season, for example, Cooper Guyer was forced into hitting duty only following shoulder surgery. He will attempt to come back this season and return to catching duties.

Injuries can always hinder success, Coach Conlon said.

“Injuries are part of sports. They happen, and often cannot be avoided,” said Conlon.  “That is why all players on a team must practice and prepare as if they will be playing. If players practice and prepare with this mindset, adjusting to new players and new positions due to injury can happen rather smoothly.”