Program helps scholastic athletes strengthen knees

For high school athletes, undergoing surgery, rehabilitation and physical therapy after a catastrophic knee injury can be a long, taxing and draining process.

An ounce of prevention, then, is worth a pound of cure.

That is the philosophy of Tim Mazer, Regional Vice President at the Drayer Physical Therapy Institute, and Bret Geishauser, head strength and conditioning coach for Boost, a local sports performance company, who are offering area basketball players a preseason exercise program that is designed to help them improve their flexibility, physical strength, and jumping regimens in an effort to reduce or eliminate injuries like anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] tears.

The six-week program, known as the SKIP [Successful Knee Injury Prevention] initiative, is being held on Monday and Thursday evenings at the Boost Performance facility that is located within the Galactic Ice Complex. SKIP includes a combination of flexibility activities, strength exercises, and plyometric or jumping activities.

Mazer and Geishauser feel so strongly about preventing injuries that Drayer and Boost are combining to offer what is the first-ever program of this type for athletes in this area free of charge. Currently, seven area girls basketball players – all members of the Bellwood-Antis basketball program – are involved in SKIP.

“We’re trying to help athletes not only improve their performance in their sport, but also, to improve their performance by cutting down on injuries,” said Geishauser, an ex-Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School and Slippery Rock University football standout who formerly worked on the strength and conditioning staff of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills. “Girls athletes are at greatest risk of knee injuries because of the biomechanics that are involved in ACL tears, and because of the way they jump, land and change directions.”

Mazer, 37, a former classmate of Geishauser’s at Slippery Rock, said the program has had a proven track record in the state of Virginia, where it was implemented by Bill Johnson – now an area manager for Drayer.

“It’s the first year that we’re doing it here, but the program has been developed over many years in Virginia, and there’s evidence there that suggests a far lower incidence of these types of severe knee injuries in athletes who have successfully completed this training,” Mazer said.

The SKIP program, which will conclude in mid-November, right before the start of the high school basketball season, has been a big hit with the athletes involved.

“I like it,” said Alanna Leidig, a freshman who plays guard on Bellwood’s junior varsity basketball team. “It stretches your muscles, and you feel stronger after this.”

Senior guard Bailey Swogger has been free of serious knee injuries throughout her basketball career, and hopes that the SKIP program will enable her to stay that way.

“I’m learning a lot more things that will help me to prevent ACL tears,” she said. “It’s pretty much a program about jumping and landing correctly. I’m learning how to land on my feet so as to prevent myself from tearing my ACL.”

And preventing such injuries is what Mazer and Geishauser’s mission is all about.

“I’ve been a physical therapist in this area for the last 12 years, and I’ve seen kids with catastrophic knee injuries who have been successfully treated with surgery,” Mazer said. “But we want to focus on preventing those injuries before they ever occur.”