A Katy ISD leader in sports medicine, Stevens set to retire

Katy ISD assistant athletic director over sports medicine Charlie Stevens, middle, was awarded the Logan Award by the Greater Houston Athletic Trainer’s Society in 2015. Stevens is set to retire after 13 years in that role on June 30.

BY DENNIS SILVA II | densilva2@gmail.com

Katy ISD is a Houston pioneer in sports medicine.

The district was the first in the Greater Houston area to promote an athletic trainer to the central office 13 years ago. Today, the district is one of only three in the Houston area—Fort Bend and Pasadena being the other two—to have an assistant athletic director over sports medicine.

That job was fulfilled by Charlie Stevens, who furthered the advancement of sports medicine at the high school level for Katy ISD. Stevens officially resigned before spring break in March, but his last day is June 30. Former Katy High athletic trainer Justin Landers will succeed him.

“Some of us have a servant’s heart,” said Stevens, who was the athletic trainer at Mayde Creek High for 23 years before then-Katy ISD athletic director Rusty Dowling promoted him in 2007 to oversee the district’s initiatives in athletic training and sports medicine. “You enjoy helping people. The sports world deals with strength and speed and all those things, so athletic training allowed me to gain knowledge that allowed me to help people.”

Stevens, 60, grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Texas Tech but spent the last 36 years in Katy. In Lubbock, he broke into athletic training at a time when only a couple of schools in the country had degrees in the field. Now there are Master’s college programs for athletic training at colleges everywhere.

In his role as assistant AD over sports medicine, Stevens gave athletic trainers a significant voice in the athletic department’s decision-making. He was someone who could regulate how much more—be it equipment, funding, or otherwise—was necessary, balancing wants versus needs. He was involved in the UIL Medical Committee.

“When legislation would come out, one of my jobs was to be plugged into what it would do to us,” Stevens said. “In almost every situation we’ve had, before the law hits the books, we (Katy ISD) already know what it is and we have a plan ready. We’re very seldom caught flat-footed. We’ve got our nose to the ground trying to figure out what’s coming.”

The concussion law, signed in June 2017 requiring districts to create concussion oversight teams, is a good example. Before it was passed, Stevens’ knowledge of the process and ruling allowed Katy ISD to have the pieces in place to enact the law.

“It’s a very unique job,” Stevens said.

These days, there are three athletic trainers on each high school campus; when Stevens started at Mayde Creek, there was one. The district provides two trainers, and the other is through the district’s partnership with Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital. The Memorial Hermann trainer’s primary responsibility is to support the feeder junior highs that work with each high school. It’s significant. High school athletic trainers no longer have to deal with issues at junior highs and can focus on their respective campus.

The district established the working relationship with Memorial Hermann Katy shortly before Stevens became assistant AD over sports medicine. It is that affiliation which Stevens is most proud of. The hospital is able to get referrals on behalf of Katy ISD for surgeries and other needs for student-athletes, and the district is able to utilize the hospital’s resources and expertise.

Four previous Memorial Hermann Katy trainers that worked with Katy ISD are now employed by neighboring school districts. Two now work directly for the district.

“The Hermann thing is the best thing we’ve done,” Stevens said. “When we got to that point a few years ago (in 2015) to have that third person to help our kids, that was the biggest deal. When we got that piece settled, it was a game-changer. I came to the (district) office to help with sports medicine, and we did a lot with policy and procedural stuff. But we didn’t really do much as far as getting the staffing needs. When I went to Hermann and told them what I need … at the end of the day, they took a leap of faith and gave us those people and that was huge.”

Memorial Hermann Katy spokesperson Maddie Rich said Stevens was instrumental in aligning Katy ISD with Memorial Hermann Sports Park and its medical staff to give the district’s athletic trainers continued educational opportunities. Stevens has also presided over a scholarship program for aspiring athletic trainers. The program is funded by Memorial Hermann Katy.

“Charlie’s efforts created consistency in care for athletes across the district,” Rich said in an email.

Stevens spoke more about his career during a recent interview.

Q: I’m sure you didn’t picture your last few months before retirement dealing with a global pandemic. What has this been like for you?

A: “It’s been weird. You’re dealing with all these unknowns, and most of the decisions you make now will affect the next school year, which is a normal process. But what makes it odd is you’re trying to make decisions about what will happen next year, but you’re not going to be the person paying the price for the decisions. That’s where it’s nice having Justin involved. All of these things we’re having to make decisions on now that will be his issues next year, we can talk through everything to make sure we’re on the same page. When you look at the district in general, we’re well-equipped for stuff like this. We do a lot of planning. As information rolls out, we can deal with the solutions. The problem we’re having a little bit, as a society, is we want to get back what we had, and maybe there’s some of these things where it may not be the same. But I’m glad things are moving forward a little bit.”

Q: You’ve been a pioneer in Katy ISD as assistant athletic director over sports medicine. How do you feel the role has progressed from day one to now?

A: “I feel like, over the years, we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve tried to build a framework and guidelines for everything, from heat to how you report injuries. We’ve done a good job of that. We had to have some central control of letting people understand where they need to operate in. It’s a careful balance, establishing a high standard of care and expectations without micromanaging your people on each respective campus. We meet, if not weekly then bi-weekly, with our school trainers through the entire school year, and it’s important to make sure we’re coordinating and that we understand what their needs are.”

Q: What initially got you interested in athletic training?

A: “I got interested in it in high school (at Roosevelt High in San Antonio). I was a scrawny kid back then. If you didn’t play basketball, football or run track, there weren’t really any opportunities in sports. In ninth grade, I tried out for basketball, they cut me, and I started doing this. I’m very fortunate it worked out that way. I’m one of those people that when I went to college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do the day I started. Not all people are blessed that way. I never looked back. In education especially, there’s a lot more to a job than the financial piece. If you can feel like you’re contributing and adding value and those kinds of things, that’s the good part.”

Q: What’s it like to see the growth of the profession of athletic training?

A: “We now have the ability to have mentorships within our own program. Whereas when I started, you had no mentors. I’d have to call back to my college trainers to ask questions. With more feet on the ground, there’s better coverage with everything. Most of our campuses have at least one trainer with over 15 years of experience. You’ve got the ability where kids are coming out of school, with a Master’s, knowing all the newest and greatest things from an educational standpoint, and they’re tempered by people who have been in the fire a bit. The old people learn from the new people, and the new people learn from the old people. It’s a healthy situation that we didn’t have 35 years ago.”

Q: What does the next chapter of athletic training and sports medicine at the high school level look like?

A: “There are other areas of expertise, that Hermann has that we don’t, that we’re starting to investigate more a little bit, specifically working on human performance programs at the junior high level. Education in age-appropriate movements. It’s an infancy program that I envision down the road to really grow into something. We enlisted their help to assess kids, and try and better develop what needs to be done with kids. We use Hermann’s knowledge with PHDs in human performance to figure out how we can better suit the needs of student-athletes. I was hoping to have that off the ground this spring, but COVID-19 kind of messed that up. I was hoping to have pilot programs and implemented some stuff by now that would have been headed in the right direction. If we knew that McMeans Junior High kids, for instance, had particular deficiencies in their athletes, when they go to the high schools for strength and conditioning in the summer, could we not customize those programs specifically for their kids? We don’t have that information right now, but it’s huge. Once we get the human performance piece, and those kids are 12 or 13, we can set them up for success to where we can prevent an injury when they’re 15, 16. After that, sports psychology and information on proper sleep and rest patterns are huge things in the pros right now. I see those coming down to our levels as well.”

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