Safe Sports Social: A healthy outlook

Annual Safe Sports Social marks progress, celebrates community champions.

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Keynote Speaker, former NHL player Hubie McDonough, shares how athletic trainers make sports safer for young athletes. Photo/SafeSportsNetwork

MANCHESTER, NHAn overflow crowd of over 250 business, community leaders and youth sports advocates filled the hall at the Derryfield Country Club Wednesday evening for the seventh annual Safe Sports Social.  A signature event on Greater Manchester’s sports calendar, the social seeks to build funds and awareness in support of critical youth sports safety initiatives in the community.

Attendees heard from an impressive roster of speakers including Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, former NHL player and Manchester native Hubie McDonough, noted sports physician James Vailas, MD and Laura Decoster, Executive Director of the NH Musculoskeletal Institute (NHMI) which puts on the annual social.  Christine Telge, Athletic Director for the Manchester School District, served as Master of Ceremonies

Among the many highlights of the evening was the presentation of the 2019 Safe Sports Star of the Year Award.  This year’s honoree was Scott Evans, a Physician Assistant. According to Decoster, the award is given to a person who through their actions demonstrates his or her commitment to ensuring youth sports safety. In his remarks, Evans said that the team at the Safe Sports Network was a lot like the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, with Dr. Vailas in the coach role and he and Decoster as players executing a plan.

Evans is a well-known figure on sports sidelines at the high school, college and professional levels, notably serving on the sports medicine teams for the Manchester Monarchs, Saint Anselm College Hawks and Southern New Hampshire University Penmen.

“He brings that professional and collegiate knowledge and experience to good use for Safe Sports kids by taking care of them both directly and by helping their athletic trainers deliver top-notch care,” said Decoster.  “His commitment is extraordinary, and he is most deserving of this recognition.”

Scott Evans, 2019 Safe Sports Star of the Year Awardee. Courtesy Photo

McDonough’s remarks included childhood memories of accompanying his father to different sporting events and coming to the realization that hockey — the sport he loved to play — could be a profession.  Ultimately for McDonough it was a 13- year-playing career and he is still connected to the sport as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings.

The audience also witnessed athletes from area schools performing a drill to demonstrate their preparation for heat-related emergencies on the field. Decoster said that among the core tenants of the Safe Sports mission was a commitment to emergency planning and preparation for every team to make sure that kids are always as safe as possible. Indeed, all schools served by the network receive training on how to react in the case of a heat stroke emergency.

Several parent volunteers also spoke at the event, including Dora Robitaille, whose twin daughters, Julia and Corinne, are elite cross-country runners at West High and soon to be freshmen at Dartmouth College, where they’ll compete for the Big Green.  Robataille shared how each of her daughters suffered injuries in high school and how the Safe Sports Network had helped them get back on the field.

Also recognized with perseverance awards were student-athletes who had overcome injuries to return to play.

The Safe Sports Network, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1989 by Dr. Vailas, who serves as Medical Director for the Network) and brother Nick, an exercise physiologist and health care visionary and advocate.

In addition to the presentations, the event featured auctions and raffles.  Organizers said the organization hoped to raise $100,000 at the social with all proceeds supporting a safe sporting environment for young athletes in the Granite State.  Gently used sports equipment was also collected for donations to youth programs across the community.

Decoster said that work of the Safe Sports Network has evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of area athletes.  Programs and services range from walk-in clinics, to on-site athletic trainers at schools, to youth and parent training on injury awareness and prevention to supporting the field of sports medicine by providing internships.  “All are provided at zero cost to athletes and their families,” noted Decoster. On an annual basis, more than 6,000 athletes are served by the program.

All the speakers noted the role of the community and the many sponsors behind the network as vital to its three decades of service to youth.  A list of sponsors can be viewed at: https://www.nhmi.net/safe-sports-social.html

To learn more about NHMI and Safe Sports Network or make contributions to their programs, please visit www.safesportsnetwork.org.