Moffat County Locals: Trainers Marshall Kraker, Matt Hertz provide medical expertise, guidance for young athletes
A sprained ankle, a bloody nose, a painful muscle cramp.
Physical ailments of all types can affect young athletes during competition or in everyday scenarios, and without the proper care, a minor bodily problem can become something much more serious.
But, athletic trainers Marshall Kraker and Matt Hertz aim to alleviate as much as possible any injuries kids within Moffat County School District might see while striving for Bulldog glory.
Kraker and Hertz work for the district through a partnership with Memorial Regional Health. Kraker began in the position in 2014, while Hertz has been in the role since 2018.
Kraker is a Western Slope native who grew up in Parshall and graduated from West Grand High School in Kremmling. He later studied at Iowa’s Cornell College and did graduate work at St. Scholastica’s College of Health Sciences in Duluth, Minnesota before coming to Craig.
An extensive history as a high school and college athlete was what ultimately drove him to sports medicine.
“Athletic trainers were some of the more influential people that I interacted with, people that really kept me going when I was very banged up. It seemed like the ideal thing for myself to do what these guys did for me and bring that to a community,” he said. “I came right out of school doing it, and it was something I learned more in a student role as an undergrad, and it geared my direction to grad school to get certified and ultimately be a professional.”
Hertz is originally from New Mexico, studying at Las Cruces’ New Mexico State University in what was a new program at the time.
“We were the first graduating class with that degree getting accredited,” he said. “There was 10 of us in my class with that degree.”
Coming to Colorado in the 1990s, Hertz served as an athletic trainer for Front Range schools Colorado Academy and Columbine and in multiple medical capacities before coming to Craig.
“I wanted to move to the mountains and came to the Steamboat area,” he said. “I took some time off because I was working two jobs and way too many hours. My wife and I wanted to downsize, and when this job came open it was a perfect fit.”
A student body of 1,700 at Columbine was at times, particularly overwhelming, he added.
“To go from that setting with that many kids in four grades to a place where the town itself doesn’t have that many students, it’s a blessing,” he said.
Prior to Hertz starting, Kraker worked with Lindsey Short, who has since gone on to perform training duties for Colorado Northwestern Community College’s athletic department.
The pair is responsible for being on-call during home sporting events for Moffat County High School and Craig Middle School, as well as traveling for certain road events and being ready for any emergencies that might come up during practice sessions.
Working with kids through Rising Star Youth Training Center and Craig Youth Hockey Association has also been part of their purview when possible, as well as area power plant workers and orthopedic patients.
A working relationship with similar medical pros is also necessary, Kraker said, noting he stays in touch with trainers for Aspen, Steamboat, Grand Valley, Roaring Fork, Glenwood Springs, and Coal Ridge.
“All our Western Slope teams are pretty lucky to have someone in our profession representing their school. We interact so well together, and we know our worth and what we’re capable of doing and we’re very helpful to each other,” he said. “The more of us on the sidelines, the more comfortable people can be whatever the event is.”
The small office that Kraker and Hertz share at MCHS is one that sees plentiful patients during after-school hours. Student-athletes regularly confer with them if they are recovering from a significant problem like a broken limb or a concussion or sometimes checking in to keep smaller concerns from becoming something bigger.
Kraker has provided coaching advice to football, golf and track and field teams at times over the past several years, while Hertz‘s many years playing hockey has also helped him lend his expertise.
“We’re around every practice, every sport, every game for the majority of them, so we have a high knowledge that we can be utilized and step in when it’s necessary,” Kraker said.
Part of the trainer role is enabling young athletes to make good choices with how they prepare for sports.
“There’s so many fads that kids fall into, everything from protein to creatine to supplementation stuff, it’s nice that we’re here so we can give them the science on all that. We want to give them the information so they’re going down the right track and doing what their bodies need,” Hertz said. “They’ll call us sometimes before their own doctor, so that’s a big responsibility. We want to get them on to people who are capable of doing the stuff we’re not capable of doing.”
Though some spectators are sometimes unclear on what Kraker and Hertz’s function is, the two agreed that people who see them regularly are glad they’re ready to go to help students.
“It’s a small community, and you’re definitely noticed a little more. That appreciation has really grown,” Kraker said. “It’s a big representative of what our hospital is capable of, knowing we’re there on the sidelines and knowing we can send community members for further care.”
Kraker noted that while the majority of games and tournaments don’t need medical intervention, he’s seen his fair share of incidents where students required immediate emergency care and hospitalization.
“It’s always a thought in our mind but never something we want to see,” he said.
An arguably tougher task is the in-between moments when a kid seems healthy but not everything looks right upon closer examination.
The duo has the unenviable job of sometimes stepping in to tell athletes, parents and coaches that competing through an injury could be disastrous.
While the “walk it off” philosophy can apply, sometimes benching an athlete is the only option, Hertz said.
“We always want to keep them on the field, that’s our favorite thing to do, but sometimes we have to take them off and keep them safe,” Hertz said. That’s what we’re here for.”