With Surge of Sports Movies on the Big Screen, Hollywood's Newest Heroes are the Certified Athletic Trainers (ATCs) Who Help Keep Actors and Athletes Injury-Free
Among the biggest “crowd pleasers” being shown at the local multiplex these days are sports-related films. The Academy Award winning “Million Dollar Baby,” “Coach Carter,” “Friday Night Lights” and the upcoming “The Longest Yard” and “The Bad News Bears” are just a sampling, with many more on the way.
As this trend continues to flourish, with a rich history of sports classics to help pave the way, audiences can expect to see more Hollywood heartthrobs, athletes and extras tackling more physically demanding roles. Getting in shape for rigorous baseball, football, basketball and other athletic films requires months of training, conditioning and dedication. With movie production often on a tight schedule, it’s imperative that when the director shouts “action,” the actors are prepared to perform without getting injured.
Of all the production staff members, technicians and assistants on the movie set, who is responsible for looking out for the actors’ physical well-being? On many top film productions, it’s the certified athletic trainer (ATC). ATCs are unique health care providers who specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses that occur to the physically active. In addition to being employed in the film industry, they can also be found in sports settings, performing arts, corporations, the military, schools, clinics and hospitals, physician offices, and other health care facilities. Certified athletic trainers should not be confused with personal trainers, who focus almost exclusively on fitness programs.
Former Major League Baseball great, Reggie Smith, who served as a technical advisor on the television film “61*,” believes it is necessary to have an athletic trainer on site during the making of every sports movie. “When you’re dealing with actors and athletes who are trying to do special stunts themselves, the risk of injury is high. The athletic trainer provides necessary guidance to ensure they don’t hurt themselves and are properly trained and ready for each scene.”
Allan Graf agrees. As the second unit director, stunt coordinator and football coordinator for “Friday Night Lights” and “Any Given Sunday,” and who has worked on countless other sports films, he knows from experience. “Having an ATC on the set gives the actors confidence that there is someone around to take care of them; someone who knows how to tape ankles, work with swollen knees and injured backs. The ATC plays a vital role in making sure that the actors are in good shape, and knowing when to alert us that an actor/player needs a rest break or time to heal from an injury.”
Represented by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), ATCs throughout the country are celebrating National Athletic Training Month throughout March, promoting the message: "Rehabilitation: Accelerated Return to Activity."
Among the many ATCs who have worked in sports films, part-time and full-time are: Brian A. Nguyen, ATC, CSCS (“The Longest Yard”); Michelle Porachan-Bachand, MS, ATC ( “Any Given Sunday”); Marjorie J. Albohm, MS, ATC, LAT (“Hoosiers”); Jennifer Taginski, ATC, LAT, EMT, (“Friday Night Lights”); Mary L. Donahue, ATC, PT (“61*”); and Kevin Allen Wright, MS, ATC (“Rebound”).
Brian A. Nguyen, ATC, CSCS
“The Longest Yard,” new 2005 remake, directed by Peter Segal.
Brian A. Nguyen, ATC, CSCS, is the head athletic trainer/head strength and conditioning coach for the Los Angeles Avengers, a team within the Arena Football League. He was hired as the head ATC for the 2005 remake of Burt Reynolds’ classic film, “The Longest Yard,” which now stars Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Nelly and Reynolds as “Coach Nate Scarborough.” The movie is scheduled to be released in May.
“On the film, I served as the ATC to the special ability extras (SAEs), who were the actual football players the teams were composed of other than the actors, plus the actors themselves. Before the SAEs and actors took the field everyday, I was in charge of running their warm-up and stretch routine. Even though the football games were choreographed, the players were still made to go all-out with contact (blocking, tackling) and ran at game speed. Subsequently, we had our fair share of injuries from strained hamstrings to concussions to severe joint sprains. We held treatment for all of the injured players.”
Before filming began, two months were spent prepping for the movie. “Adam Sandler and Bill Fichtner were the lead actors to play the quarterbacks. The head football coordinator (Mark Ellis), the play designer (Pat O’Hara), the quarterbacks’ coach (Shawn Salisbury of ESPN) and I spent those months working with Adam and Bill three times a week to improve their quarterback skills.
“This included footwork, cadence, throwing mechanics, hand-off mechanics… basically, making them real quarterbacks. Since the actors were not used to such an intense throwing routine, my main role here was to make sure they did not injure themselves. That, and implementing a good strength and warm-up/cool-down routine ensured their playability.”
Rob Miller, CEO of ReelSports, a company that trains actors, casts athletes and choreographs action for many sports-related films, believes Nguyen did an exceptional job on “The Longest Yard.”
“Since we really put these guys through an intense training camp to rehearse the football plays, the athlete/actors got sore and beat up. It was invaluable to have Brian there to help with that process.”
Michelle Porachan-Bachand, MS, ATC
“Any Given Sunday,” directed by Oliver Stone
Michelle Porachan-Bachand, MS, ATC, is an anatomy and physiology teacher, head athletic trainer and sports medicine club advisor at Boynton Beach Community High School, in Boynton Beach, Fl. In late December 1998 through April 1999, she was the head athletic trainer and a medical advisor on the football film, "Any Given Sunday,” directed by Oliver Stone, which was released in 1999.
“The duties as behind-the-scenes athletic trainer were the same as for any level of football athletic trainer,” she says. “The actors and players trained and practiced for a month and then we shot the scenes at the Homestead Sports Complex, The Orange Bowl, Pro Player Stadium and Dallas Stadium. I also became the ‘medic’ for orthopeadic concerns for the actors in the football scenes, who included Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid and LL Cool J.”
“Michelle did a terrific job on the set and was very professional,” says Graf. “Of all the movies I’ve done, this one had the most plays. Michelle’s capability of keeping 40 players healthy was very instrumental in making the movie a success. It took someone very special to work on a movie for 12 to 14 weeks and make sure the actors were stretched and ready to go.”
During the shooting, Porachan-Bachand worked regularly with director Stone and his script supervisor, and was also cast as "the third athletic trainer" in the movie. She took on additional responsibility for the actors an an orthopaedic consultant, and made referrals to local orthopaedics when one of the actors or stuntmen needed one.
“The only difference to my daily routine as an athletic trainer on the set of the film and my regular job, was the hours,” says Porachan-Bachand. “Mr. Stone liked to shoot late in the day and throughout the night. So more often than not, we worked from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. For about a month we worked 18 to 20 hour days with one day off a week. Another difference was that we had to wait for clouds in the sky to pass, and jet engines to cease, when shooting the football scenes.”
Marjorie J. Albohm, MS, ATC, LAT
“Hoosiers,” directed by David Anspaugh
Marjorie J. Albohm, MS, ATC, LAT, is director, Orthopaedic Research and Business Development, OrthoIndy and The Indiana Orthopaedic Hospital in Indianapolis. She was among the first women in the nation to become a certified athletic trainer in 1974. For the classic 1986 basketball film, “Hoosiers,” she was the ATC on the production team.
“I had direct contact with Gene Hackman, David Anspaugh, the director and the film’s producers, who I would give my injury reports to. My knowledge of how to handle athletic injuries and get the actors/players back to work as quickly and safely as possible, came in handy, because the production schedule depended on it.”
Albohm found working on the film very rewarding. “One of the actors sustained a fairly significant ankle sprain that limited his ability to perform skills necessary for the shoot. I treated him daily and reported his daily status to the director, just as I would to a head coach. The skills of an ATC were definitely needed in this case,” she says.
Jennifer Taginski, ATC, LAT, EMT, Personal Trainer
“Friday Night Lights,” directed by Peter Berg
Jennifer Taginski, who is based in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., works full time in the film industry as an athletic trainer/set medic. Every year, she works on one to six projects, which can last anywhere from one week to six months. Taginski’s latest project was “Friday Night Lights,” released in 2004, about a heroic high school football team. The film starred Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Jay Hernandez, Garrett Hedlund and Derek Luke.
“This was the most action-packed movie I have done,” says Taginski. “There were lots of big football hits. Luckily, none of the actors got seriously hurt. We did have some dislocations, pulled muscles and concussions. As with any football team, there were a lot of ankles and fingers to tape.”
In addition to “Friday Night Lights,” Taginski has recently worked on “The Rookie,” “Radio,” “SlamBall” and “Mr. 3000.” “Jennifer did a fantastic job taking care of Bernie Mac in ‘Mr. 3000,’” says Miller of ReelSports. “She also worked with several other actors who had to portray Major League Baseball players and made sure they trained hard, were stretched, conditioned and hydrated.”
Mary Donahue, MEd, ATC, PT
“61*,” directed by Billy Crystal
Mary Donahue, MEd, ATC, PT, who is based at the Henry Ford Health System - Center for Athletic Medicine, in Detroit, Mich., specializes in performing arts medicine.
During the six-day Detroit shoot of the television baseball film “61*,” directed by Billy Crystal in 2000, she was the only medical staff member on the set.
“I would check in daily with Reggie Smith, who consulted on the film, to see who needed to be treated,” says Donahue. Among the actors she assisted were Thomas Jane (Mickey Mantle), who had sustained an injury to his back, Barry Pepper (Roger Maris) and Anthony Michael Hall (Whitey Ford).
“We had 30 athletes and actors who were doing the actual plays on ‘61*,’” recalls Smith. “When Thomas got hurt, Mary worked with him and had him back on the field that same day and for the rest of the week.”
“It was an intense assignment,” Donahue says. “I felt proud to be a part of the production.”
Kevin Wright, MS, ATC
“Rebound,” directed by Steve Carr
Kevin Wright, MS, ATC, is assistant athletic trainer at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. In July 2004, he worked on the set of “Rebound,” a new comedy starring
Martin Lawrence as a college basketball coach forced to accept work as a coach at a junior high school, which will be released later in 2005.
“My role as an ATC on the set included providing medical coverage for the young basketball players during filming. This movie shoot had many scenes in which the teams ran plays, performed small stunts and had choreographed competition. I helped the actors with muscle soreness and stretching techniques during the often long scenes. I also covered the shooting in case of any acute injury, and was present after filming for any evaluation or treatment.”
“Kevin has a solid background,” says Miller of ReelSports. “He worked primarily with the young actors/athletes to ensure they were well hydrated and receiving appropriate care. He stepped up and did a great job for us.”
Wright believes the film industry could be an untapped area of growth for ATCs. “The training and practice actors go through for their roles is very similar to the training athletes perform for their sport,” he says. “Repetitive drills and overload can put the actor at risk of injury just as easy as the competitive athlete. With more and more films and television shows having sports or athletes as their theme, the certified athletic trainer’s role can only grow.”
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About the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA):
Certified athletic trainers (ATCs) are unique health care providers who specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses that occur to athletes and the physically active. The National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession through education and research. March is National Athletic Training Month. www.nata.org. NATA, 2952 Stemmons Freeway, Ste. 200, Dallas, TX 75247, 214.637.6282