By R. Alan Richardson
With all the hoopla going on around the success of the Morgan County High School teams this past year, we sometimes forget about the guy who works diligently to keep them on the field. About the only time you see him is when there’s an injury on the court or field. Coach Dennis Sitzmann said, “I like being behind the scenes. The players and coaches are the ones who do all the hard work so my job is to help those injured players get back out on the field in a manner that protects them, the coaches, and the school.”
Coach Sitz, as he’s called, came to MCHS from Iowa where he attended a small Catholic high school and then went to Iowa State University. He laughingly told us, “I was always interested in storms and tornadoes in the Midwest and pursued a degree in meteorology until I found out how much math it required. I left school and went to California to do some soul searching. While there I realized that my interests were also in human anatomy and how the human body works. I also loved sports. The only way I could think of to combine the two together was to become an athletic trainer.”
After returning to Iowa State, Sitz says he did great once he found his calling. “It’s amazing how it changes your motivation,” he said. Dennis got his degree and was ready to get into the workforce and start his career.
He commented, “I grew up on a farm in Iowa and knew I didn’t want to be a farmer and deal with the brutally cold temperatures in the winters.” So how the heck did he find Madison, Georgia? “I found a job online at Physical Therapy South in Griffin in the early 90’s. It was funny that I was trying to get away from the cold and that was the year that Atlanta had that huge blizzard. It was just like Iowa. It was crazy,” he said. It’s also where he met his wife Kim. Her father had a heart attack and she was bringing him to physical therapy when they met. He laughed, “How that worked out with him getting sick, you hate that, but it worked out for us pretty well.” They have three children, Kingsley, Collin, and Clark.
He worked in Griffin for three years and was part of an outreach program where he attended Jackson High School games as a trainer for Coach Kenny Moore’s football team. Moore came to MCHS as the new head football coach and had always wanted a full-time trainer. He went to the DuPree foundation and requested funding for the position. It was approved for a two-year trial period and Sitzmann got the job in 1996. This is his 20th year at the post where he serves the students, faculty, and others on a daily basis. He now works closely with team doctor, Dan Zant of Madison Family Medicine.
If you’ve visited the state-of-the-art athletic training facility on the gym floor, it’s obvious that the Bulldog family wants what is best for our athletes. He has at his disposal electric stimulation technology, ultrasound treatment, hot bags, ice bags, whirlpools, training tables, and pneumatic compression. “We don’t have some of the cutting-edge technology like lasers because it’s just too expensive, but we have almost everything we need to deal with the day-to-day stuff. If it’s real serious I’ll call Dr. Zant or Dr. Shane Smith with the Athens Orthopedic Clinic. We have a really good network of doctors that I can make a phone call to, and they’ll see them pretty quickly regardless of their status or insurance. Several doctors also donate their time to help us get physicals done three times per year. We only charge five dollars and it goes to helping us buy supplies like tape and other essentials.” He mentioned doctors Zant, Craig Benson, Roland Nash, and Ed Fletcher as well as nurse practitioners Beth Cathey and Leah Ainslie as being a part of donating their time yearly.
Coach was asked how he helps kids deal with sometimes disastrous or season-ending injuries. He paused and then said, “I try to keep them hopeful. This is not going to define you and it’s not the end of the world. It’s a challenge we’ll face together one day at a time. This will pass and go by fast so it will be a blip on the radar one day.” Sounds like the motivation of the true coach that he is. He has a great rapport with the athletes and coaches that make him an invaluable member of the coaching staff.
Some of the biggest concerns for trainers today are concussions and heat illness. Sitzmann said, “We know a whole lot more today about both of these and coaches are trained better than they ever have been about the dangers. What used to be termed a “ding” is now treated much more conservatively than it once was. We now realize the dangers associated with that. As far as the heat goes, I’m here to protect our weakest link. The guy who decides to come out for football in the fall who hasn’t been acclimated during the summer workouts is the guy I’m most concerned about. It’s preventable and there’s absolutely no reason for that to happen. They come out of an air-conditioned space in the heat with the pads on in August and some of them need to get used to it. They are the ones who can potentially have problems. I’m amazed at how they can handle it.”
Sitz says his job is to clarify what is safe and not safe. “I love my job and never know what’s going to walk, limp, or be carried through my door. I appreciate the school, administration, and coaches for supporting my decisions from the athletic training room. It’s been good to know that Coach Moore, Steve Cisson, and now Doug Connelly as athletic directors have always had my back when I’ve had to make decisions about a player’s safety. They know I’ve got the kids’ best interests at heart when those tough decisions have to be made.
The Morgan County School System and MCHS are fortunate to have had this man in charge of our program for over 20 years.