The NJSIAA Student Athlete Advisory Council held its first full meeting of the school year on Oct. 29, as the Student Ambassadors and student representatives from each athletic conference met for an informative session at Rutgers University.
The first half of the agenda involved injury prevention and nutrition, which were topics that the students had expressed an interest in through surveys that had been circulated amongst them. After a break for lunch, the next topics were issues related to the NJSIAA itself, in this case sportsmanship and the power point system that determines state tournament seedings in most sports. There was also additional dialogue, initiated by the students themselves, on the pros and cons of home schooled students being allowed to play sports in their home districts.
The first two speakers came to the meeting from the Atlantic Health System. Daniel Harrington, a sports medicine physician, and Danielle Palestina, an athletic trainer and overseer of the athletic training outreach program for Atlantic Health, spoke about injury prevention.
In their presentation, they focused on common injuries to high school athletes, such as ones to hamstrings, the knee (ACL) and leg (shin splints). In addition to describing what causes those injuries, they also spoke about ways to help prevent them. That part included advice on ways to properly stretch and warm up, and even what kind of footwear to use, and when to replace them with a new pair. The speakers also made it clear that proper rest from activity is extremely important for athletes, especially young ones. They stressed that it is important to work smarter, and not always harder, in their training. The students also had a chance to ask the experts questions, and they took advantage.
“I love speaking with the kids,” Dr. Harrington said. “They’re the future. You’re trying to get them to create healthy habits, so I love doing this stuff, and they seemed to enjoy it, which is even better. It’s not just for high school, it’s for college, it’s for the rest of their life, that they learn to balance this with things like proper nutrition. You have to listen to your body, and listen to how your mind is feeling about what you are doing. It’s not just about sports. These are life skills.”
Nutrition was the theme of the next presentation, which was made by Katie Salomone and Summer Tietz, who are part of the athletic staff at Rutgers. Salomone is the assistant director of sports nutrition and Tietz is a football dietician intern.
After giving a rundown of what they do, and how the dietary needs of athletes are addressed at the school, they spoke about what kind of foods and drinks help - and don’t help - athletes as they train and compete, and even when they are in a rest period. When given a scenario of how high school athletes should eat and hydrate on a typical game day, figuring in breakfast, classes, lunch period and a 4 p.m. game start, they offered tips on that as well.
A crucial part of the SAAC mission is that the presentations offered are not just for the attending students, but for them to bring back to their classmates at school.
“I got a lot of information on how to stay healthy and how to improve your performance, and about sportsmanship and tournaments that I can bring back to teammates,” said student representative Shawn Falk, a Wallkill Valley senior who is a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and baseball player.
The second part of the day’s agenda was centered around NJSIAA topics, in this case sportsmanship and power points. Both were moderated by assistant director Tony Maselli, who among his job responsibilities is to deal with game officials. In addition, prior to joining the NJSIAA, he devised the power point formula currently used in most sports when he was athletic director at Montgomery High School.
A discussion point regarded the sportsmanship announcements read before NJSIAA contests, one read by the officials, and the other that’s read to the spectators when a school utilizes a public address system. The opinions of students were sought on whether those messages were enough, if they can be improved upon, and most importantly, if they sensed that they were being given proper attention by the athletes themselves at their own events. The students offered a variety of opinions, some of which varied by sport.
The second part of Maselli’s presentation dealt with power points. It proved to a very interesting topic among the athletes, mainly because they’ve all heard the term and have often seen the numbers that determine their team’s state tournament bracket placement, yet were generally unaware of how those numbers were determined.
“My favorite part was to learn more about the power points,” said Emmi DeNovellis, a junior soccer player at Old Bridge. “I didn’t really understand them, so this helped me realize how important they are.”
The SAAC will continue to meet during the school year. Some topics at future meetings, as determined by their own survey responses, will address issues such as time and stress management, transitioning into college as an athlete, communicating with teammates and officials, and NJSIAA-related issues including eligibility and transfers.
“I think this is a really cool idea,” Falk said. “This is an honor to be involved in. It’s always good to get student-athletes feedback to see what they are thinking.”
DeNovellis also absorbed plenty in her first meeting with the group.
“It was really eye-opening,” she said. “Some people do take the sportsmanship statements before the game for granted, and the nutrition was eye-opening, too. I don’t really focus on my eating, and my parents tell me all the time that I have to, but I don’t really listen, so I’m hoping to take things back out of that. With the injuries, I’ve also been in and out of the trainer for months now, so I can relate a lot to that. I just sprained my LCL two weeks ago. It’s hard to come back from an injury and then try to play big for your team. With the injury prevention stuff, it helps that I focus more on stretches instead of just going in and out rehab.
“I really liked this,” DeNovellis said. “You get to meet a lot of people from different schools. It’s good that we can all meet together to try to improve high school sports.”