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Athletic Trainer Spotlight: Mike Harrison, ATC

January 11, 2017

When Mike Harrison, ATC, started working at Allen High School in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas in 1995, the school had 2,300 students. Now, 22 years later, the school has 6,200 students, and Mike oversees a staff of three full-time athletic trainers and 69 athletic training students. “I never imagined that the school would grow like it has,” he says.

Almost 19 years ago, Mike hired his first assistant athletic trainer, Mary Lynn Miller, ATC. Chay Nersesian, ATC, joined them eight years ago, and Chris Brock, LAT, came on board three years ago. “Our campus is unique,” Mike explains, “because many of the school’s sports are housed in the stadium facility located across the street from the school. Mary Lynn and I work out of our main athletic training room located there. Chay works with the ninth graders in our freshman center, and Chris has an office in the school’s main gym and focuses on indoor sports, as well as tennis and cross country.”

Football, it almost goes without saying, is big at Allen High School. The team won Class 5A Division I state titles in 2008, 2012 and 2013. The team won the 6A Division I state title in 2014. Following the 2014 season the team was named High School Football America national champions. In addition to football and other standard high school sports, student athletes at Allen can participate in competitive fishing, shooting, archery, Lacrosse, men’s ice hockey, rugby, and club bowling.

With dozens of sports and thousands of student athletes, it is critical that Mike and his staff work together like a well-oiled machine. He says, “When it was just Mary Lynn and me, she worked primarily with the female athletes, and I with the male athletes. As the number of athletes grew, we had to make a change and adjusted to the growth and needs to better serve the athletes. Now, everything is put on one calendar, and the four of us divvy up the responsibilities. We work well together, help each other out, and cover for one another.”


Participants in the school’s robust student athletic training program, under Mike’s leadership, contribute to the care of athletes. “When I first came here, the program was unstructured and there was no student ownership. That started to change when I began taking an annual team picture that got posted in the training room—so there are now 22 pictures on my wall. I also implemented a student athletic trainer of the year award, voted by peers and staff. ”

Students interested in joining the athletic training student program participate in an application process each spring. “We consider each candidate's grades and teacher recommendations, and have them write a short essay that reveals their personality,” Mike says. “We select about 15 new students each year, out of the 100 or so applications received. The students in our program have a real interest in athletic training and a strong work ethic.”

To further give students ownership of this program, Mike empowers them to make decisions and take responsibility. For example, he hands out student assignments for the first football game. But after that, he gives the responsibility to the head student athletic trainers. “They do the game day job list as well as the weekly practice list and rotate job responsibilities,” Mike says. “I’ve done this for the past 22 years and it has worked great. This year we had 16 student athletic trainers with Varsity football, 31 student athletic trainers per two JV football teams, 15 student athletic trainers with our freshman football teams, and six students assigned to other sports as well.”

The students enroll in an athletic training class that meets during the regular school day. They learn CPR, first aid, taping, wound dressing, and study from an athletic training textbook. In addition, they have lab sessions and opportunities to observe surgeries performed by team doctors. Over the years, a number of graduates of the student athletic training program have gone on to become professional athletic trainers.


Mike is passionate about the health of his athletes, and is particularly focused on concussion and head injury prevention and treatment. “We are vigilant and want to do everything right,” he says. “It’s important to us that our athletes to come back and see us in 10 years with no issues related to their high school sports experience. We have a return-to-play protocol, and now I’m on a taskforce that’s working on a return-to-learn protocol as well. These students are in school to learn, and when it comes to concussions and head injuries, we have to be their advocate. It’s a silent injury.”

At the beginning of each year, Mike says, all student athletes attend a state-mandated presentation where they learn about sports safety including signs and symptoms of heat illness, breathing problems, cardiac emergencies, head injuries, “and other things that don’t always occur, but could occur,” with a major emphasis on concussion. “But as we all know,” he says, “athletes want to play. Some will tell us straight up that they think they have a concussion, but there are still some who wait a few days. We do impact neuro-cognitive baseline testing for all student athletes in their freshman and junior years. It’s important to do it both years, because at this age the brain is still developing. We also use the King-Devick sideline evaluation, and our team physician, Jim Sterling, MD, has been a leader in bringing ImPACT into the Dallas area.”

Outside of his role at Allen High School, Mike has enjoyed covering events for organizations including People to People International, the Elite Football League in India, volunteer for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team Gold Cup 2014, and the Blue Sox Baseball club of the Texas Collegiate League. Other events have taken him to Holland, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Germany and Sweden. Mike also became a member of Cramer's Athletic Trainer Advisory Council last year.

Mike is married and has two sons. His older son, age 21, is a professional goalkeeper for the Tulsa Roughnecks FC. His younger son, age 18, attends The United States Military Academy Prep School at West Point.