Meet Luke Howard, Hudson School District’s new athletic trainer
It’s the morning after the Hudson Raiders’ big football victory over Minnetonka, and new athletic trainer Luke Howard is busy just outside the high school, tending to a few minor aches and pains.
One player took a hard shot to the chest last night. Another’s knee is a little tender. Still another jammed a finger.
“They used to splint those, but if you immobilize it, you can lose some motion,” Howard tells that player after a thorough check for pain and the player’s ability to extend and contract the finger. “These days, we recommend that you just keep moving it with this type of injury –- nice, easy motion.”
He demonstrates with a few extensions of his own fingers: “Like this.”
A few minutes later during an interview in the training room, assistant coach Ryan Jamieson stops in with a request. His 4-year-old son also hurt his finger, and the youngster is hoping for some official high school athletic stretch tape to help it mend.
“He said he wanted black tape: ‘It has to be black,’” Jamieson laughs after mimicking his son. Howard laughs too while obliging as two or three football players pack plastic bags of ice from a freezer just inside the training room entrance.
Jamieson now winks at the reporter who’s doing the interview. “This guy here,” he says, nodding to Howard. “He does it all.”
Howard started his new job July 17, working as Catalyst Sports Medicine’s director of athletic training after 12 years at Eau Claire’s Regis Catholic Schools and the city’s Marshfield Clinic Center. He worked in Sheboygan and Saginaw, Mich., for eight years before that.
In Hudson, he’s available for all schools and sports-related activities, but these days, the football teams occupy most of his time.
“That’s a high priority for me due to the risk of injury in football -– and it’s at all levels,” Howard explains.
Howard also is part of the Catalyst Industrial Medicine team, which works with the company’s business clients on workplace ergonomics while treating and preventing employee injuries.
“My focus is on prevention,” Howard explains of both duties. “With industrial medicine, the idea is to keep active employees active and prevent injuries that can lead to time off, worker compensation claims and other expenses.”
Howard replaces Catalyst’s Nathan Brine, who left after five years to become a “physician extender” and athletic trainer at the HealthPartners Specialty Center at Regions Hospital in the Twin Cities.
Says Catalyst Sports Medicine co-owner and CEO John Knutson who discovered Howard through the professional social-media site, LinkedIn: “He’s really quite capable. He’s got 20 years of experience, and I like Luke’s presence. He’s very accommodating and just a real professional and responsible individual. … I probably talked to 15 or 20 athletic trainers for the job. Luke was head and shoulders above.”
Howard is also an expert at juggling long and extremely busy work days. The Friday of the Minnetonka season opener in Hudson, for example, he worked two freshman football games and a junior varsity contest in addition to the varsity’s evening showcase. If needed, he also helps the visiting teams.
“Yesterday started around noon, and I got home around midnight,” Howard notes in his Saturday morning interview without the slightest hint of bother.
“I work the games, versus watching as a spectator. So if you asked me the score during last night’s game, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I was too busy.”
You’ll recognize Howard on the sidelines by, among other things, the three huge containers –- two duffel bags and an extra-large tool box -- he keeps there for all his training gear.
“People tease me about it. They think maybe I’ve got too much equipment on the sidelines,” he laughs. “But I’d rather be over-prepared than under-prepared because you never know what you’ll run into.”
A native of Saginaw, Howard has been a certified athletic trainer since 1992. He got his undergraduate degree at Eastern Michigan University, after which came graduate school at Indiana State University. He’s also been an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Athletic Training Program.
“Back in high school, I had to learn how to take care of myself with injuries. I played a lot of soccer and other sports,” he recalls.
“I’ve always loved medicine. I thought about medical school in college, but I wanted to be able to work outside a lot. That’s the best part about this job, that and working with the kids.”
By now, he’s seen just about everything.
Reminded about a recent incident in which a St. Thomas Academy football player went into cardiac arrest during practice –- the youngster was revived by quick medical treatment and is recovering “faster than projected,” according to school officials -– Howard recalls similar emergencies in his past.
In one, he revived an Eau Claire school custodian who had a heart attack while a game Howard was working was in progress. “Talk about priorities,” he says of that incident.
In another, a student’s mother who hadn’t taken her blood-pressure medicine collapsed during a school dance competition. Howard revived her too.
“I haven’t had anything in Hudson so far that would shock me,” he reports.
Asked about the Gallaudet University T-shirt he’s wearing during his interview, Howard notes that the Washington, D.C.-based college for the deaf invented the football huddle.
“They needed to hide their sign language so the other team wouldn’t know their plays,” he explains, adding: “I took a couple years of sign language in college. It also helped me recognize the body language of an injured athlete.”
Howard’s family still lives in Eau Claire –- his wife Eileen, an English teacher at Eau Claire North High School; his daughter, second-grader Isabelle; and son Eli, who’s starting kindergarten this year.
Howard has been commuting to Hudson and back every day. “For me, the drive here is not a problem at all,” he says. “I use it to sort of gear up in the morning and wind down at night. I get all sorts of ideas when I’m driving.”
Eileen gets special credit for helping him manage all the logistics. “She’s been amazing. She’s just been great,” Howard says.
He also appreciates the cooperation and friendliness he’s gotten from everybody he works closely with in Hudson.
He specifically mentions the Catalyst and Hudson Hospital and Clinic’s teams -- Knutson, team physician Lincoln Likness, athletic trainer/physical therapist Heidi Schulz and the rest –- along with high school Athletic Director Stephanie DeVos, assistant Jane Branson, and, of course, the coaching staff.
He also singles out the school district custodians, whom he describes as “like a vital organ of the school team. Without them, you’re dead in the water.”
It’s still a little too early in Howard’s Hudson career for him to remember the names of all the people who have been there for him since he started.
“Everybody’s been very open, very friendly and very helpful here. Everybody’s been wonderful,” he says. “Their main concern across the board is the health of our student-athletes. That’s my main concern too.”