St. Francis High School's Sports Medicine Program 13th

Southland students participated in St. Francis High School's 13th Annual Sports Medicine Competition at the school in La Cañada Flintridge on Saturday, April 5, 2014. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / April 5, 2014)

Nearly 530 teens considering a career tending to injured athletes turned out Saturday when Saint Francis High School hosted its 13th annual Sports Medicine Competition.

Over the years the event has grown from just four schools participating to 39 schools, making it the largest high school sports medicine competition in the nation. Local schools like Arcadia, Pasadena and La Cañada highs were represented, along with long-distance travelers, such as Enumclaw High School, hailing from Enumclaw, Wash.

"It's a great thing, especially for us Washingtonians, to come down to the L.A. weather, and see some sun," said Matteo Molieri, a senior at Enumclaw High.

The competition began at 8 a.m. with a 100-question written test that evaluated the students' general knowledge in the field of healthcare. In addition, each year students are tested on a particular anatomical area; this year it was the shoulder. They are then asked injury-specific questions about evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation.

The second test is a practical exam, comprising five questions judged by an athletic trainer or student studying sports medicine at the university level.

Eli Hallak, head athletic trainer at St. Francis High School, organized the event with the help of nearly 150 volunteers from Cal State Northridge, College of the Canyons, Azusa Pacific University, and Western University of Health Sciences.

"One of the things that really [improved participation in the competition] was when we were able to involve Cal State University Northridge's Athletic Training and Education Program," Hallak said. "Once we realized that we needed assistance — we couldn't pull this off on our own, and we reached out to the sports medicine athletic training community. We got such a warm response that it allowed us to grow this.

"That influx of volunteers has allowed us to become the largest high school sports medicine competition in the nation," he said.

Molieri said he likes what the competition has to offer, "[For me] it's not the technical aspect that I learned — it's what a community can do. Similar to what we did to create our competition in Washington State, it's great to see kids and students that really want to learn. I love the aspect of competition. I know I'm not going to be able to play sports in the long run — this keeps me with competition and I've always loved the medical field, so this marries the two together."

Cabrillo High captured the small school division in team competition while Culver City High won in the large school division.

Hannah Frey of Coronado High School was the winner of the high school athletic training student of the year, beating out 21 other students with her portfolio and presentation on motorized spine boards.

As the day wrapped up and the students packed onto busses and into cars for their respective trips home, Hallak reflected on the field of sports medicine, noting that it's capturing a lot of interest. "We're seeing a huge influx of athletic trainers and sports medicine professionals at the high school setting — which is going to allow the programs to grow.

"You're seeing a higher influx of some of these students becoming healthcare professionals — either athletic training or any type of healthcare. You're going to see it develop and grow exponentially."

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MICHAEL BRUER is a freelancer. He can be reached at michaelbruer7@gmail.com.

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