New Hughson High sports medicine class exposes students to another potential career path

Hughson High senior Ace Palecek plays football and competes in track. He wants to major in physical therapy and kinesiology in college. Fellow senior Olivia Garza is a member of the girls golf, soccer and softball teams. She dreams of being a nursing assistant someday.

This year, for the first time, both students are able to take a class that gives them some insight into and foundational knowledge about their preferred career paths. The course is called Sports Medicine. It is taught by veteran science teacher and longtime Hughson track coach Joel Bernard.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Hughson Principal Loren Lighthall.

In fact, so many students signed up for the class that a second one had to be added. Not surprisingly, most of the students – like Palecek and Garza -- are athletes. Bernard said 91% of them either play at least one sport or have been on a Hughson team in the past.

Bernard, who has a master’s degree in human physiology, has taught science, anatomy and physiology at Hughson for 26 years. He also has coached track for at least that long, putting him in regular contact with many of the school’s best athletes. He spent the past four years juggling his teaching duties with his responsibilities as the school’s athletic director. When he decided he didn’t want to be the AD any longer, he and Lighthall began to brainstorm ideas about how to fill his time.

“Since I came to HHS five years ago, we've increased by more than 150 students and added five new teaching positions. However, we have not added any electives. So, I asked teachers to let me know if there was anything they were passionate about and were qualified to teach,” Lighthall explained. “Mr. Bernard came up with the sports medicine.”

Bernard said he looked around the region to see if other high schools offered a sports medicine class. He found an example at Ripon High, talked multiple times with his counterpart there and then reviewed the curriculum.  

“We wanted a class that’s heavy on science, but of interest to students,” Bernard said.

So far this semester, students have been taught how to tape ankles, heard about common injuries and treatment protocols for different joints, learned how to take vital signs and seen how heat and humidity affects the body.

Bernard’s goal, he said, is to go beyond the basics. When it came to vital signs, for instance, he delved into what blood pressure is and why it’s important, told his students about respiration and the lungs, and explained about heart rates.

“We’re going to keep moving through body parts,” he said. “Here’s the shoulder. Here’s how you commonly injure it. Here’s how you treat it.”

Palecek said the sports medicine class has made him more attentive to how Hughson’s coaches and athletic trainers interact with athletes. When a minor football injury sidelined him a couple of weeks this fall, he put his new knowledge to good use and helped tape the ankles of his teammates. He now wants to job shadow a physical therapist to get a better idea of what a potential career doing that looks like.

Garza also said an injury put her on a path toward a medical career. Last year, she broke her arm in three places playing soccer. She couldn’t play any sports for two months, a period of time in which she had to undergo physical therapy at the Kaiser Medical Center in Modesto. That experience inspired her to want to learn more.

“I figured this class was a good introduction,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot already. Like taking vital signs. I didn’t know you could take your pulse in your armpit. We also learned how to take blood pressure.”

Lighthall said it’s important that high school students be exposed to a range of potential career paths even before they begin college and have to decide on a major. In the case of sports medicine, learning more about taping, stretching, workout programs and exercises to prevent injuries is a great experience.

“That leads to a natural interest in the profession,” Lighthall said. “Kids want to do what they see and know, and in this class they see an athletic trainer doing ‘cool’ stuff every day.”