Mintz ever attentive to role as health advocate for Polk County athletes

Published 6:59 pm Monday, April 3, 2017

As Polk County senior Brandon Bacher dropped to the surface of W.J. Miller Field, knocked unconscious in last October’s football game with Owen, athletic trainer Wiliford ‘Wink’ Mintz was already moving onto the field.

It is the most visible of the tasks that Mintz performs as Polk County’s athletic trainer, dealing with injured players. But it is a small part of the duties that the veteran athletic trainer and former EMT worker carries out with the goal of keeping Polk County athletes as safe and healthy as possible.

His state athletic trainer license number is 19, a sign of the more than two decades that Mintz has been caring for Wolverine competitors. Schools and organizations across the country saluted staff such as Mintz in March during National Athletic Training Month.

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“First and foremost, I’m here for the safety of the athletes,” Mintz said. “I make certain we practice in safe conditions and monitor heat, lightning and storms. I make sure the athletes have enough water. I make sure we have our emergency action plan in place.

“I make sure the coaches stay updated on their CPR and first aid. I take care of physicals and assess injuries. And I keep certified myself, making sure I have what I need. I am here to be an advocate for the safety of our athletes.”

Being the voice for an injured competitor has become more challenging in recent years for Mintz, especially with the increased focus on concussions. Even before the current era, in the days when players would often opt to “shake it off” and return to competition after a violent blow to the head, Mintz saw the potential for long-term effects from such injuries. Recent evidence has supported that sentiment.

“For 20 years we didn’t have much of anything as far as guidelines,” Mintz said. “We’ve come a long way from that. People tell me (the focus on concussions) is a fad that’s going to pass. I’ve seen evidence it’s going to be more than that.”

Just as much a concern in recent years has been keeping players safe during hot outdoor practices and games. As with concussions, heat safety is something that drew scant attention in years past, but has lately become an important part of Mintz’ job. Though athletes competed for years without worrying about head or heat safety, Mintz notes that is no reason to ignore the importance of each.

“The biggest thing for us the last couple of years has been heat,” Mintz said. “We take five minute breaks during football practice every 30 minutes for water. If it gets hotter, then we have to take the jerseys off the players as they take those breaks.

“We know seat belts save lives, but my dad used to drive all the time without them without issue. People may feel that way about heat and concussions, but there are certain things that have to be done. There’s a learning curve we’re working with there.”

Mintz attends every Polk County football practice and game as well as most home wrestling matches and basketball games and girls soccer games. He is also often busy during the school day checking on athletes even as he serves as the school’s drafting teacher.

“There’s a lot of rehabilitation we do along the way to make sure an injured athlete can come back safely and be as close to 100 percent as they can be,” Mintz said. “Things have evolved quite a lot. I get a lot of support from coaches and the administration. People understand it’s the right thing to do.”

As the incident with Bacher showed, Mintz must keep an attentive eye on the field at all times, never knowing when his services might be needed. Even as he enters the final stage of his athletic training tenure – Mintz hopes to reduce his duties beginning next season so that he can have more time to travel to watch his grandsons compete – that vigilance remains his focus.

“One of the hardest things about the job is that you always have to be ready. Every play has the potential for disaster,” Mintz said. “You have to be prepared. Out here (a girls soccer match), you could have two ladies kick other and you could have a broken leg or anything. You have to be ready.

“My job is to protect and serve these athletes, and that’s what I try to do.”

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