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‘I’m all about the kids’: Longtime trainer Dave Smith has served Palmerton’s athletes for 29 years

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    Palmerton trainer Dave Smith wraps Dalton Rumfield’s ankle. “Trainer Dave” has served Blue Bomber athletes for 29 years. ED HEDES/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published January 16. 2020 01:07PM


He is one of the most noticeable figures in the halls of Palmerton High School.

He’s known to both students and staff as “Trainer Dave” and for nearly three decades, he has been a fixture in the school and at Blue Bomber athletic events.

Born and raised in Centerville, Crawford County, Smith graduated from the Kiski Boys School in 1988. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from Grove City College, and then another bachelor’s in sports medicine from California University of Pennsylvania.

“I was first placed in Palmerton High School through Coordinated Health Network for six years until I was then hired by the school district,” said Smith.

He thought he would only be responsible for taking care of the athlete’s health and safety concerns — but from 1996 until 2001, Smith wore two different hats.

“I was the athletic director and the trainer,” he said. “(Sports Director) Bob Capasso from Blue Ridge Cable TV-13 Sports gave me the nickname Slash. I was AD Dave in the morning/Trainer Dave in the afternoon.”

Throughout his 29 years, Smith has stayed current with the evolution of public school training. Every two years, he must earn credits to be recertified.

“There is a greater emphasis today on the safety of young athletes,” he said. “Two priority areas are concussion protocol and hydration testing for wrestlers.”

Back in the day when a football player hit his head, he was told he “got his bell rung” and often times went back in the game. Today, a head hit is taken more seriously and trainers like Smith have to do a variety of tests to determine if the athlete has sustained a concussion and should be removed from activity.

Smith has called for an ambulance at times during his tenure, and he remembers one incident in particular.

“It happened at a junior varsity football game back in the 90s,” Smith said. “One of our players made a tackle, and while he was down on the field, he said he couldn’t feel anything from his shoulders down. We call that injury a stinger — a bruise to the spine that can numb the nerves in the body.”

The athlete ended up being fine.

“He was obviously scared and so was I, but as a professional trainer, I have to keep my composure at all times.”

He explained that he needs to stay calm because that helps the injured athlete relax.

“First, I tell them it’s not their fault,” he said. “Then I tell them to take deep breaths to get them to calm down. I’ve got to be their rock.”

Palmerton athletic director Kyle Porembo said that Smith’s demeanor allows injured athletes to feel less frightened if they do get hurt.

“The kids are very comfortable approaching him when something is wrong, and part of that comes from his lightheartedness.”

Smith has treated ACL injuries, concussions, broken ankles and every other injury that happens during an athletic event. And sometimes, he has to treat injuries to fans.

“During a soccer game, a lady tripped on the bleacher steps, fell and hit her head,” Smith said. “Another time at an away football game, a fan passed out in the stands. Thankfully, both were OK within a brief period of time.”

He spoke about the kids he’s treated for so many years.

“My parents taught me to be a people person, and that’s who I am,” Smith said. “I’m very friendly with everyone in the high school and in the middle school.”

“He goes above and beyond to accommodate visiting teams, and the officials as well,” added Porembo.

Though he says he stays behind the scenes and only steps forward when needed, he has gladly taken on a few extra non-job related duties. In the gym, Smith puts up the names of the basketball team’s players along the sides of the scoreboard, and keeps the statistics for the home boys and girls basketball games. He also makes three crockpots of food during home football games to feed the officials at halftime.

Porembo said Smith prepares “massive amounts of food” for a football game.

“It’s just something you have to see to believe,” the AD said.

“I take pride in my job and in my school, “said Smith. “I can’t openly root for Palmerton, but these are my kids too, so you know how I feel.”

Smith said another reason he loves his job is because it’s something different every day; he never knows what to expect.

“Variety is the spice of life,” Smith said with a laugh.

When asked about the worst part of being a trainer, Smith didn’t hesitate to offer an answer.

“Seeing them get hurt. I wish nobody ever got hurt, and they wouldn’t need attention from me. I’m all about the kids.”

He jokes about treating athletes who are the children of parents he once treated, and if he fulfills his plan to retire after 40 years at Palmerton, he will see these same parents come into the school as grandparents.

“I love to help young people,” said Smith.

Though he seeks no credit or adoration, he has become an icon at Palmerton High School — a man who continues to help the athletes’ minds stay happy, and their bodies stay healthy.



TICKETS PUNCHED ... Four area teams have already clinched district playoff berths.

Among boys teams, Marian and Tamaqua have secured postseason berths. Also making the playoffs are the Jim Thorpe and Northwestern girls.

Knocking on the door are the Palmerton boys and Tamaqua girls. Both clubs need one more victory to clinch a berth.



QUITE A START ... The Marian boys opened their season with 11 straight wins, eventually falling to Williams Valley on Monday.

The last time an area boys team had a longer streak to open the year was 2006-07, when Northern Lehigh started 15-0.

That squad, which had its steak snapped by Bethlehem Catholic, finished regular season play with a 22-2 record. They went on to win the Colonial League championship and were the District 11 runners-up.

The Bulldogs that year were coached by Rich Oertner. Leading scorers on the team were Trevor Behler, Jacob Waylen, Phil McEachron, Aron Duncan and Pat Wanamaker.



GETTING TO THE LINE ... Palmerton’s Kody Kratzer is a frequent visitor to the free-throw line, getting there an area-best (boys) 117 times.

The junior guard struggled there early this season, making only 22 of his first 45 attempts (a percentage of just .489) over his first six games. Over his last eight games, though, he has shot 58-of-72 (an .806 percentage) to help him average 24.1 points per game during that time frame.



TREY HAPPY ... Pleasant Valley has collected the fewest amount of three-pointers among area boys’ teams, but they have accomplished something no other club has done.

The Bears have had 11 different players connect from outside the arc, more than any other squad. Jim Thorpe and Lehighton are right behind them with 10 players. A year ago, the Indians had the most players (13) with at least one three-pointer.


THREE-POINT SPECIALIST … Northern Lehigh’s Emma Niebell is only in her sophomore season. But the young Bulldog has made herself known as a three-point shooter. This past Monday, Lincoln Leadership Academy found out firsthand that Niebell is capable of shooting well from beyond the arc. Niebell finished with six three-pointers, which backed her game- and career-high 29-point effort, sparking the Bulldogs to a 69-23 victory.



OFF TO GOOD START … Seven of 10 local Times News girls’ basketball teams are off to a great with winning records. Jim Thorpe currently leads the area with an 11-1 overall record and is riding a five-game winning streak. The Olympians opened the season with a six-game win streak. Tamaqua has won three out of its last four and sports a 9-2 mark. Northwestern (11-3) is on a four-game win streak and has won 12 of its last 13 games. Pleasant Valley (8-3), Marian (6-3) and Palmerton (7-5) also are above .500.



TURN-AROUND … A year after going 8-14 overall, the Northern Lehigh girls’ basketball team is making progress toward a potential winning season. The Bulldogs have won four out of their last five games after losing four in a row. They are currently sit 7-6 overall and are one win away from matching last year’s win total with eight games to go.



THE EARLIER THE BETTER ... The schedule for the Schuylkill League at Jim Thorpe Area High School was changed due to the weekend’s weather forecast for snow. The league wrestling tournament, originally scheduled to be held Friday and Saturday at Jim Thorpe High School, has been condensed into a one-day event on Friday. Weigh-ins will take place at 10 a.m. and wrestling will begin at 11 a.m. with preliminaries followed by quarterfinals (noon); first round consolations (1:15 p.m.); second round consolations (2:30); semifinals (3:45); third round consolations (3:45); and consolation semifinals (5:30). The consolation and championship finals will take place at 7:30 p.m. and be contested on three mats. A Parade of Champions will be held at 7:15 p.m. All place-winners (top-six) will be awarded at the conclusion of the next weight class.



LAST TIME ... Jim Thorpe’s Ethan Mordaunt and Lehighton’s Chris Whiteman entered last year’s Schuylkill League Championships with plenty of buzz as top seeds. Mordaunt and Whiteman delivered, producing performances befitting of their resumes, and living up to the hype that surrounded them as two of the best around. A 7-4 decision over Upper Dauphin’s Donald Gelnett in the 220-pound final gave Mordaunt his first league title, while Whiteman knocked off Upper Dauphin’s Tyler Wright 5-2 in the 145-pound final to win his second straight title. Tamaqua’s Aaron Coccio (132), Khalid Holland (160) and Bronson Strouse (285), Jim Thorpe’s Austin Williams (182) and Lehighton’s Logan Pagotto (152) all placed second. Of this group, only Coccio and Strouse return this season. Host Pottsville won the team title for the third-straight season, finishing with 202 points. Blue Mountain (195) was second, while Tamaqua (123) was third. Upper Dauphin’s Bronson Garber also won his fourth league title a year ago, topping Pottsville’s Wiley Kahler 5-1 in the 126-pound final. The most recent wrestler to accomplish that feat was Blue Mountain’s Josh Mason, who won four in a row from 2015-18.



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