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Trainer relates science, football at annual fair

March 31, 2003|by BONNIE HELLUM BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As Pittsburgh Steelers' head athletic trainer John Norwig toured the exhibits at the 21st annual Franklin County Science and Technology Fair Sunday, he was impressed by how many of them related to his job in football.

Norwig, 45, is in his 12th year with the Steelers and his 24th year in athletic training. He spoke during the awards assembly at the conclusion of the fair, held at Chambersburg Area Middle School.

As an athletic trainer, Norwig is responsible for coordinating health care for the players, he said. He noticed that many of the students' projects involved electricity.

"Electricity is important to athletic trainers in helping to rehabilitate athletes after an injury," he said. "It's used for pain relief, to decrease swelling and to stimulate muscles."

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At least one project investigated which cleaners most efficiently remove spots from clothing.

"That's important to our equipment people," he noted. "They are responsible for removing stains from the jerseys," which can cost more than $200 each.

Many of the science projects dealt with the soil. Heinz Field, the Steelers' relatively new home stadium, has had its turf replaced three times, Norwig said. "It's the eighth-worst playing surface in the NFL." Agronomists have been hired to manage it. He added that turf burns sustained by players carry a greater risk of infection from artificial surfaces than from natural turf.

Norwig also mentioned the display on Gatorade.

"All professional and high school teams use it," he said. "There is lots of science behind Gatorade. There have been studies on the amounts of sodium, potassium and carbohydrates needed for peak athletic performance."

He also cited displays on mazes, how the brain recognizes color, dental health, nutrition, heart rate and stomach acid reduction as relating directly to the duties of an athletic trainer.

"I work with scientists on an almost daily basis," he told the students and parents. Hand surgeons, dentists, neurosurgeons, physical and occupational therapists, and orthopedic surgeons all are involved with the team. MRIs, CT scans and drug testing, which involve scientific principles, are used regularly.

Players have benefited from a new helmet design, which better protects the jaw, Norwig said.

"Injuries to the side of the head cause the worst concussions, and they studied the biomechanics to improve the helmet," he said.

Norwig earned a bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Pennsylvania State University in 1979 and a master's degree in health education in 1984.

His training career began in 1979 as athletic trainer at Bellefonte (Pa.) High School. He then served six years as assistant trainer and health education instructor at Penn State. He was head athletic trainer at Vanderbilt before joining the Steelers.

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