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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Interview Part 2: Steve McInerney, Great Opportunities

Steve McInerney in his Oswego High School office. On the shelf are photos from his days as a baseball trainer, and, more recently, as an athletic director.

Part 1: Side of Caution | Part 2: Great Opportunities

Anytime Steve McInerney went to a new stadium, he enjoyed walking out of the dugout and seeing he field.

This time, though, in September 1991, the new field the baseball trainer was seeing was Tiger Stadium.

"When I got to pull up to Tiger Stadium, it was really a great opportunity," McInerney recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I remember it vividly. Just a great experience going out on the grass, knowing the history of old Tiger Stadium."

McInerney had been brought up with the September call ups, to experience the majors and work with the Tigers head trainers, including Russ Miller.

He also got to work with the legendary Sparky Anderson. McInerney recalled Anderson meeting him at the door, Anderson joking he was glad to see McInerney, because the manager didn't want to deal with the other guys anymore.

McInerney spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently at his office at Oswego High School, outside Chicago. After his career as a trainer in baseball, McInerney has gone into high school sports, becoming Oswego High's athletic director.

McInerney has also taken many of the lessons he learned as a trainer - both in the majors and the minors - with him to his most recent career.

Oswego High School, Home of the Panthers

In addition to his athletic director duties, McInerney has lobbied the state for tougher standards for trainers, and for tougher rules on concussions.

The trainers bill passed in 2006, helping to ensure high school athletic trainers in Illinois meet national standards and qualifications with licensing trough the National Athletic Trainers Association. "We wanted to make sure that when athletic trainers were taking career of kids in Illinois, they were qualified and licensed people," McInerney said.

At Oswego, the school has two trainers, along with McInerney, to watch over athletes coming from a student body of 2,500.

McInerney called the concussion bill huge, in that it helps schools respond to the head injuries and helps parents understand what to look for.

Steve McInerney, right, with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke. Before going to Florida State, Weinke played in the Blue Jays system, including at AAA Syracuse in 1995, where McInerney served as trainer.

That bill passed this past summer, with McInerney and several others, including former Chicago Bear Kurt Becker, testifying to a committee with the state legislature.

The intention of the bill, McInerney said, was to raise the level of education and awareness of concussions. Parents have to sign off on a form that alerts them to the signs and symptoms of a concussion. That's important, McInerney said, because signs of a concussion can come later, at home.

That can take the form of simply letting the school nurse know about a headache.

The school also has a certain protocol for allowing students back in to play. And the athletic trainer and physician are the only two people who can clear someone to play again.

"What it's done is help increase exposure and awareness of what can happen with a head injury," McInerney said.

Oswego also performs baseline cognitive tests on its athletes when they're freshmen and juniors. The test, called an ImPACT test, is also done more frequently on anyone diagnosed with a concussion.

The test, McInerney said, is another tool to evaluate whether an athlete can return to the game.

"They might say 'I'm OK,' 'I'm OK.'" McInerney said. "We know everybody wants to be tough. Football's a tough game. But then they're really not OK. We want to make sure they have a long and healthy life."

McInerney compared the changing attitudes to such injuries to that of the minor leagues. Players are a big investment to major league team, and they want to protect those investments. McInerney and other high school officials want to ensure that high school athletes get the same level of care, he said.

"Changing the win-at-all-cost mentality, that's so important," McInerney said.

The next focus, McInerney said, is sudden death in athletes, which can be a cardiac issue.

Ned Skeldon Stadium outside Toledo, Ohio. The stadium was once home to the Toledo Mud Hens and was where Steve McInerney served as trainer in 1990, making the CMC baseball card set.

McInerney's main duties as an athletic director are making sure his teams are taken care of equally, and to provide the resources to make them successful. He also oversees athletic events. He spoke while preparing for an upcoming charity basketball game.

Asked about how his experience as an athletic trainer impacts his current job as an athletic director, McInerney said it's allowed him to multitask. It also exposed him to many different settings.

McInerney got out of being a full time trainer in the minors to spend more time with his family, his wife Sherry and their three children, ages 13, 18 and 21.

Their oldest was born while McInerney was trainer for Toledo. Their second-oldest was born when McInerney was in Syracuse.

Working in high school athletics, though, McInerney said he and his family now have a place to call home.

"Baseball gave me a great experience," McInerney said. "I got to meet a lot of people. I got to travel, see a lot of different things. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was just a great experience. I'm fortunate enough to be blessed to have the things we have now."

Part 1: Side of Caution | Part 2: Great Opportunities

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