Jon Laakso doesn’t study film, doesn’t devise game plans and doesn’t strategize on the fly.
But as the athletic trainer at Bemidji High School, Laakso is an integral component to the success of the Lumberjacks teams and athletes.
“I look at TJ (short for Trainer Jon) as an extension of the staff and a member of the Lumberjacks family and all of the Lumberjacks programs,” said BHS boys hockey coach Wade Chiodo.
“With all of the student athletes, their health and getting the treatment that they need are the top priorities.”
Laakso was hired as the first certified trainer at Bemidji High School in fall 2000 and he was elated to make the move.
“I knew all along that I wanted to work with the youth and Bemidji High School is the perfect fit for me,” he said.
Sanford Health and Bemidji High School have developed an arrangement that allows Laakso, whose day job is being an athletic trainer at Peak Performance, to be the head trainer at the school.
As the Lumberjacks trainer, Laakso treats all kinds of injuries. Some of them are physical and some of them are emotional.
“There are days when I have 10 kids come into the training room and days when I’ll see 50 or more before a practice,” Laakso said. “Every kid is different. Some are focused on overcoming an injury and some are lackadaisical when it comes to treatment. It helps to personally know the kids because you have to analyze each kid differently.
“And it helps to be a good listener.”
The latter trait comes in very handy when a young athlete sustains a major injury, such as a tear of the anterior cruciate knee ligament (ACL).
“There are kids who blow their ACL and think that life is over,” Laakso said. “They think that high school sports are the only things that matter in the world, and sometimes so do their parents.
“But after I listen I reassure them that there will be another day,” Laakso continued. “And 12 months later, when you see that kid back on the court, it’s very rewarding.”
From jammed fingers to broken legs, Laakso has seen it all and in recent years he has noticed a shift in the most common injuries.
“Football keeps me the busiest. It has the most participants and the highest number of injuries,” Laakso said. “Up until a year ago injuries to the ankle were the most common but now, because of all of the media attention, it is head injuries. Now, if you have a headache after a hit, it is considered a concussion and you have to treat it as a concussion.”
Chiodo appreciates having Laakso at the rink during his games but the ability to work with an athlete following an injury is an aspect of the trainer’s job that Chiodo said sometimes goes unnoticed.
“TJ is there for the after-care and people don’t realize how important that is,” Chiodo said. “At least once a week I’m calling TJ to get a report on a kid. As a coach that’s a nice luxury to have and it’s a key component to our athletic teams.
“I believe that there are four parts to a successful program,” Chiodo continued. “It starts with the student-athletes themselves and then the coaches. You also need an activities director who is committed to all of the programs and then you need a trainer who is always there. All four are important for a program to move in the right direction and to ensure the safety of the student/athletes.”
Giving each of the 25 sports the attention it deserves keeps Laakso busy but he doesn’t mind dealing with such a hectic pace.
“Every sport, every coach, every kid keeps me hopping,” Laakso said. “If the kids are in school I have to be here covering any sport, junior varsity or varsity, where there may be a risk of injury, but I don’t mind it.
“I get a lot of satisfaction in this job.”