New Canaan trainer Diane Murphy-Kivell named Secondary Athletic Trainer of the Year
Published 12:43 pm, Wednesday, September 16, 2015
NEW CANAAN — It’s 1:45 p.m., a quiet time in the New Canaan High School trainer’s room with just the sound of the radio playing softly as you walk in.
Just beyond the training tables, ice machine and whirlpool tub is an office adorned with inscribed pictures of former New Canaan athletes on the walls and Diane Murphy-Kivell sitting at her computer getting ready for the rush which will be coming.
By 2 p.m., the first student comes in for a bag of ice, then one for an treatment on an ailing back and then another and another until every table has an athlete sitting on it with Murphy-Kivell bouncing from table to table, tending to each student as if they were the only one in the room.
This scene continues in varying forms of chaos until practices end sometime after 6 p.m.
If handling an entire M.A.S.H. unit alone seems easy when watching Murphy-Kivell it is because she has been on the job at New Canaan since 1982 when she was hired as the first full-time athletic trainer at any high school in Connecticut and has gotten the routine down pretty well.
Because of her tireless dedication to the student athletes and her aplomb for the job, Murphy-Kivell was awarded the “Secondary School Athletic Trainer of the Year Award” from the Connecticut Athletic Trainers Association in recognition of her work.
The award was given out in the spring but announced at a New Canaan Board of Education meeting two weeks ago.
“It was very nice and I was certainly not expecting it,” Murphy-Kivell said of the award. “It’s a newer award. Connecticut has had an award for trainer of the year, but just recently made a category for secondary schools. It really is nice to be recognized.”
If there is one job in high school sports that is the definition of behind the scenes it is that of the athletic trainer. At times it can lead to a lack of recognition but any athlete who has passed through New Canaan probably owes part of their success to Murphy-Kivell.
While the award is a pleasant surprise, Murphy-Kivell said taking care of the students’ long-term health is priority No. 1.
“My number one goal is when an injury occurs to make sure that injury is not going to produce a long-term disability,” Murphy-Kivell said. “My thing is trying to keep these kids from injuring themselves again. Kids of course do not recognize that. I always hear from kids who say, strained a muscle, and say to me ‘I’m good, I’m ready to play’ and I have to tell them that even though you feel better, it is not healed. Especially with concussions when you get an athlete one-on-one they understand that they need to rest and they need to heal.”
Concussions have been a big topic of discussion in high school sports the last five years at least, but looking back, Murphy-Kivell had concussion protocols in place at New Canaan decades ago, well before it was mandated by the state.
“Diane was thinking about head injuries and thinking about protocols for return to play 20 years ago the way it is mandated now,” New Canaan athletic director Jay Egan said. “Frankly, all the state mandates and the things we have to do now, we were already doing because of Diane. Diane always had preseason meetings with coaches about concussions. I don’t think high school sports has ever been safer as far as injury management and proactive ways to keep kids safe and Diane was ahead of that.”
The state mandates have helped in the sense that it is no longer just Murphy-Kivell preaching proper protocols, but something that is happening at every school.
Murphy-Kivell said she has developed a trust with the New Canaan coaches over the years, though when she started there were a few old-timers who did not want to hear a student was injured and could not play.
Murphy-Kivell deals with student injuries, but communicating with coaches about when a player is ready to return is a big part of the job and there is nobody the New Canaan coaches trust more than Murphy-Kivell.
In the case of football coach Lou Marinelli, who has been at the school since 1981 himself, Murphy-Kivell is as trusted as a family member. He even jokes he has only been with his actual wife one more year than he has been working with Murphy-Kivell.
“We know each other pretty well,” Marinelli said. “She is all about being a trainer and she takes so much pride in what she does. She is so conscientious about doing what is right for the athlete though sometimes as a football coach it may drive you a little bit crazy but I know she has the athletes’ best interest at heart.”
Part of being on the job 33 years is seeing some of the athletes she once helped mend come back as coaches.
In fact, five current football assistants and varsity lacrosse coach Chip Buzzeo were tended to by Murphy-Kivell in their youth.
That relationship really makes cooperation between herself and the coaches easier, according to Murphy-Kivell.
Preseason practice days are hectic enough but when games begin Murphy-Kivell really shines, cruising in her golf cart from field to field as needed each afternoon.
It is on the football sideline where she really earns her stripes, quickly assessing and dealing with injuries where getting hurt is a given.
Dr. Harrison Pierce, a pediatrician and one of New Canaan’s athletic team physicians said New Canaan is a lucky community having Murphy-Kivell on the job.
Pierce or another doctor is on the sideline of every Rams football game, working seamlessly alongside Murphy-Kivell.
“NCHS is so fortunate to, first, have a full-time position but also to have Diane Murphy,” Pierce said. “She is a great person and an excellent clinician. Her job is very labor intensive and she handles it all so well. She has great communication with us on the sideline but also in terms of follow up care if she has to refer an injured athlete to our practice.”
Murphy-Kivell certainly did not expect to be at New Canaan this long when she started, but now says she can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I am still here. When I got out of college I thought this would just be a short-term job to come and then go somewhere else,” Murphy-Kivell said. “But the staff here was and is so great. (Former athletic director) Vinny (Iovino) was great Jay (Egan) is great. I think they really understand how much we can help these athletes and you can see it is a pretty nice facility. We are so lucky.”
Because she stayed, not only has New Canaan High School benefited but she also paved the way for more schools to hire full-time trainers, though many schools still do not, all while simply focusing on one thing:
The safety of her athletes.