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Students promote safety, nutrition through local recreation sport leagues

James Berry (left) works with a child during baseball practice at Northside Baseball and Softball League.
James Berry (left) works with a child during baseball practice at Northside Baseball and Softball League.

With spring in the air, thousands of children across the country hit the diamond to play little league baseball and softball, but very few of those leagues have professionals available to treat injuries and train coaches on safety. It was that problem that first sparked the interest of graduate student James Berry.

“I kind of stumbled into this during my first year of graduate school. From the research I realized there was a significant need for athletic training professionals and safety information for younger children playing sports,” said Berry, who will graduate with his master’s degree in health and human performance in May.

He and Dr. Mandy Jarriel, assistant professor of athletic training, developed a project to help change that through partnering with several Baldwin County little leagues.

“We’ve really focused on three areas—we set up tables at practice and games to pass out literature on nutrition and healthy living, we’ve provided each coach with a first-aid kit, and we are also hosting a CPR class for coaches and umpires,” said Berry.

With the help of an ENGAGE grant, the project began last fall with the Old Capitol Soccer League. They expanded during the spring to include the Northside Baseball and Softball league. In all, more than 800 children will benefit from their efforts.

“In Baldwin County, as in most places, parents and community members volunteer for the leagues to coach,” said Jarriel. “We would love to see the provision of full-time athletic training services at every level, but for right now we are working to provide those volunteers with resources to help keep the children safe and fill that gap.”

They also reach out to parents through social media from the Facebook page PlaySafe Baldwin. PlaySafe Baldwin is an educational resource for parents and coaches of Baldwin County to promote best practice procedures in children's sports.

Jarriel has also involved her undergraduate students in the outreach efforts. They help pass out literature at the practices and even work with students at a local high school.

“These undergraduate students are working with high school students at John Milledgeville Academy (JMA) who are interested in athletic training. The students really do love teaching at JMA,” said Jarriel. “Through this involvement they realize how much of a difference they can make in our county outside the classroom.”

Although much work is still to be done, Jarriel and Berry agree the project has made a difference.

“The work we have been doing has been so welcomed. We realize that parents can only take in so much information, but knowing it’s their kids and their safety that we are trying to educate them on, it has all gone over very well,” said Jarriel.

Even though Berry graduates in May, the plan is to continue to build on the foundation and provide athletic training resources to the local children’s sport leagues.

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