Student athletes happily travel miles across the state and occasionally the country for their love of sport. A class full of students have traveled across oceans for their desire to help those same athletes at Merced College.

The Merced College athletic training program is a three-tier study of basic skills, medical and entry-level athletic training. The curriculum program focuses on a set number of contact hours (10-12 for freshman, 15-20 for sophomores), where students work directly with athletes and teams, as well as a lecture course once a week.

One of the things that makes the MC program unique is its popularity with international students, the majority of which come from Japan. Head athletic trainer Scott Lemberger said the number of students, which started with two back in the 1998 school year, has grown steadily in the 20 years that followed with 16 students registered in the fall semester.

“We see ourselves as part of the team,” said trainer Yasuko Tanabe. “We consider the trainers and the athletes together are a family.”

Tanabe, who is Japanese herself, has watched the program grow over the course of her five-year tenure at the College. She explained that many of the students join the program via simple word of mouth. The students are assisted by Student Support Coordinator Mayumi Wood, who works collaboratively with students and the Y.E.S. homestay program to ensure international students enjoy a positive educational experience.

The program prides itself on their hands-on training, with student trainers on the sidelines of almost every game on campus. The students average about 15 to 20 hours of direct training a week, split between pre- and post-practice treatments, practices and games. They are taught to ask questions, adapt and to be quick on their feet while they work.

“I hope they can adjust, like I did, where they can learn to say, ‘I can do this’ and be active with the instructors,” Tanabe said.

The students in the program aren’t only learning a vocation, but also the culture of a Western collegiate program. The immediacy of the environment forces students to be prepared and to possess the ability to communicate their reasoning with the players and the rest of the training staff.

“These trainers are huge, not only when our players are injured, but also proactively.” Merced College women’s basketball coach Allen Huddleston said.

According to Huddleston, the trainers make his life easier as a coach. Their impact is most evident when the teams hit the road and visit a campus that doesn’t have an athletic training program.

“We’re here for the students.” Tanabe said of both her trainers and the athletes. “We want them to keep going and we want them to be successful.”

-- Contributed by Alessandria Pedretti