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Gropper recognized for work at MHS

Chris Huber/Republic Mitchell High School Athletic Trainer Clayton Gropper tapes an ankle before football practice in his office Tuesday afternoon.

Clayton Gropper has taped more than 21,600 ankles in his career at Mitchell High School.

And after putting in countless hours on the field, court and classroom, he's finally being recognized for all that wrapping and work.

The Mitchell High School employee was named Athletic Trainer of the Year by the South Dakota Athletic Trainers' Association for the 2011-2012 school year.

"It's nice to get recognition for the hours and work you put in," Gropper said. "I didn't expect anyone to nominate me for something like this because it's just my job. It's an honor and I wasn't expecting it."

Gropper's journey started as a teenager when he knew he wanted to work in sports for the rest of his life.

"I was very active and always involved with sports in high school," Gropper said. "I have family members in the medicine field, so it seemed like a good mixture and good fit for me."

Gropper left his hometown of Long Valley and continued his own athletic career by playing for the Dakota Wesleyan football and baseball teams while earning degrees in sports medicine and history with a minor in secondary education.

He graduated from DWU in 2000 and worked for a year for Dr. Robert McWhirter, an orthopedic surgeon in Mitchell.

In 2008, Gropper finished his master's degree in sports management with an administration emphasis from the American Military University, an online school.

Now in his 12th year at MHS, Gropper said he loves interacting with Kernel students and athletes.

"I like seeing the athletes progress from seventh-graders to seniors, and some of them go on to play sports in college," he said. "I don't get to watch them much because of my schedule, but it's still nice to keep track of how they're doing."

Gropper said being on the sidelines at games is both enjoyable and demanding.

"The best part of my job is having great seats for all of the events," Gropper said with a laugh. "I love being a part of the game atmosphere, but there's also a risk of injury and you have to be ready for one."

Gropper said he's dealt with elbow dislocations, knee injuries, broken bones and other major injuries, but two situations stick out in his mind.

"The scariest injury I've dealt with was a kid had a heart condition, and we had to use a defibrillator right out on the field," he said. "Another one was a kid who broke his tibia and had nerve damage. Those two were pretty bad."

On top of working in the training room and at Kernels games and events, he teaches three courses at the high school and an elementary gym class at Longfellow Elementary School. Gropper works 30 to 40 hours per week for athletic training purposes, which doesn't include time in the classroom.

During the school year, DWU athletic training students have the opportunity to work and shadow Gropper in action with Kernel athletes.

"I get help out of them and they get experience and learn the different environment of working with high school sports," he said. "I also learn from them as well."

Trever Wagner, a former Mitchell Kernel and senior athletic training student at DWU, is working alongside Gropper this fall.

"He's a great trainer," Wagner said. "When you have injuries, he explains them to you so you can understand them. He treats them so you can get back to participating as soon as possible.

"When new injuries come in, (Gropper) lets me examine the injury and I tell him what I think the injury is. He walks me through the process and gives constructive criticism. I've really learned a lot from this rotation working with him."

Gropper is employed by Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell but is contracted with MHS and its athletic department. In the summers, Gropper runs Avera's acceleration program and covers events including the Miller Lite Bull Bash, the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, the Lowell Rang softball tournament and many other major sporting events which take place in Mitchell.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.