Wetumpka trainer tent

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald The Wetumpka training staff set up the new sideline tent for the first time during a practice last week.

It was just four years ago when University of Alabama trainer Jeff Allen introduced the pop-up medical tent on the Crimson Tide’s sideline. The latest feature in sports medicine quickly swept the nation, showing up on college and professional football sidelines, and now you can find one without having to see it on television.

The Wetumpka football team got its own sideline tent when Brent Vinson of Phoenix Rehab took money from his own pocket to buy one for the program. Vinson, who has worked with the Wetumpka program since 2006, said he was excited to provide the best equipment possible for the student-athletes.

“They deserve it, not just the players but the coaches and families here,” Vinson said. “(Wetumpka) coach (Tim) Perry said the quarterback club could buy it but I said let me take care of this one. This is a passion of mine and if I can do it in a visual way so parents can see we’re taking care of their kids, I want them to get something nice.”

Vinson was on campus during the first week of practice and got the new tent set up for the first time. Cody Arant, Wetumpka’s full-time athletic trainer, said he has been looking into getting one for the program since he arrived after using a similar tent during his time at Mississippi State.

“I was excited for sure,” Arant said. “This is something that is pretty big time. NFL teams have it, big college teams have it so it’s cool to be one of the few high schools in the state to have it. It’s just us trying to take this program to the next level.”

There are a few high schools throughout the state that used the tent last year but Vinson said Wetumpka will be the first with it anywhere between Mobile and Birmingham. As the tent was being set up during practice, several players turned their heads to see what the commotion was all about and the trainers could feel the excitement from the players.

“I know it gets them excited,” Arant said. “It shows that they’ve been doing so well that people want to keep giving them the best stuff and keep doing things for them. It feels good to see that.”

One of the biggest reasons for having the tent on the sideline is to gain privacy for injured players during the game. When a player goes down with an injury in high school football, it can be tough to hide the extent of the injury from the crowd so Vinson and Arant both agreed this gives the training staff a better opportunity to provide that comfort.

“In this day of social media, when a kid hurts his knee that should be between us, the coaching staff and the family,” Vinson said. “That’s a conversation we don’t want students or the fans to be privy to. If we have to break the bad news to a kid that his season is over, we don’t want to do it with all of the fans knowing.”

Arant said, “In high school, you’re just kind of out in the open so everyone in the community knows exactly what’s going on. That can be a big liability issue. Having this and being able to take kids in there and take our time with it really helps us professionally and it helps the student-athlete get the best care they can get.”

Wetumpka had its fair share of injury troubles during the 2018 season but Vinson said that had nothing to do with the decision to expand the medical care this season. He said he is always in talks with the coaching staff and school to find ways to improve the athletic training program and this is just another step in that direction.

“You can’t prevent injuries,” Vinson said. “You can protect against them but sometimes unfortunate injuries just happen by accident. But something like this allows us to be reactive so we can address things quickly and get these kids taken care of.”

Perry said he has always been grateful for the work Vinson has done for the program and he is happy there is a way to show people outside of the program the progress that has been made. Wetumpka has continued to push for upgrades around the football program and Perry said this will help show the community how that progress can help the players.

“We want to provide our athletes the best possible facilities and equipment we can,” Perry said. “We don’t want to short change our guys in any way. This brings a kind of professionalism to our program and that’s what we want.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.