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Photo by Theo Tate
Merten works with a football player during the first day of practice.
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Photo by Theo Tate
Granite City athletic trainer Tate Merten talks to players during a football practice on Aug. 8.
Tate Merten was excited when the Granite City Warriors football team had its first practice on Aug. 8.
During the three-hour evening practice, the longtime Granite City athletic trainer helped the players work on running, tackling and blocking.
“It was nice having just one sport on Monday, getting my feet wet again,” Merten said.
Two days later, Merten became more excited when the other teams, such as volleyball, boys’ soccer, cross country and girls’ tennis, started their practices.
“I was ready to rock and roll when we started on Wednesday,” Merten said.
This fall, Merten returns for his 22nd season as athletic trainer. He started working at GCHS part time in 1995 while he was an employee at St. Elizabeth Hospital, now Gateway Regional Medical Center, before earning a full-time position in 2001.
“I work day by day and that’s all I can do,” Merten said. “It gets busier in here. The schedule is busy with games and practices and stuff. I just do the best I can with the kids... and keep them safe and help them be successful and do the job right.”
Granite City football coach Carl Luehmann said he was excited to see Merten return for another year as athletic trainer.
“He’s very valuable to our program in what he does for us, not just during the games, but during the week preparing kids to get back on the playing field for us,” Luehmann said. “He’s done a great job for us.”
Merten is the trainer for all 20 teams at GCHS.
“You have to prioritize your sports,” Merten said. “You’ll spend most of your time at the most dangerous sport, and that’s football.”
He said one of the favorite parts of his job is working with the coaches.
“These coaches are great,” the athletic trainer said. “They’re fun outside of coaching. But when the heat’s on, we all work together. It’s all about the kids. We do whatever we can for the kids so hopefully they’ll be successful.”
Merten, who turned 50 on July 7, has been in the athletic training business since 1988. He said he first got interested in the position while he was a student at Western Illinois University.
“I played football and tried to walk on,” Merten said. “That didn’t go very well. I knew I wanted to stay around athletics. I enjoy helping people and see people improve. So in my sophomore year at Western, I was really dedicated to my major in athletic training. That’s some fun. In fact, in my sophomore and junior year in college, (Granite City assistant soccer coach) Barry Grote was one of my athletes.”
Merten’s first job was in the Detroit area. After he received his master’s degree at Indiana State University, he earned an athletic trainer job in the Chicago area.
“My home base was in Barrington, Illinois,” he said. “I worked in a really small school and a really diverse student body with a lot of Hispanics.”
The “small school” was Round Lake High School, which now has 2,137 students.
In 1995, Merten headed to Granite City, where he was hired to work at St. Elizabeth Hospital and as GCHS trainer part time.
“At the hospital, we did a little patient work there with the physical therapist,” Merten said. “We do a lot of paperwork. I come out here (at GCHS) at 1 p.m. If I have an issue to take care of, I come out here a little earlier.”
Merten said he was happy when he was hired to work as a full-time athletic trainer at Granite City in 2001.
“I had a family, a wife and three kids,” he said. “We moved to Granite City from Alton. When we first came here, we bought a house. I didn’t want to move. I’ve already been to school for 4 or 5 years. I know a lot of people here, and I’m comfortable here and I like it here.”
After getting hired full time, Merten was one of several Metro East athletic trainers. The others were Brett Kisro of Collinsville — now the athletic trainer at Freeburg — and Jack Edgar of Triad.
Merten also was hired as a substitute teacher at GCHS. He taught classes in special education, English and anatomy.
“Even though I didn’t enjoy it a whole bunch, it got me to where I am now,” Merten said. “You always have to take all of your experiences and put them all together.”
Since he became full time at GCHS in 2001, Merten has worked with more than 50 head coaches and hundreds of athletes in every sport, except hockey.
GCHS cross country coach Richie Skirball said Merten has been valuable to the school’s athletic department.
“I can’t tell even tell you how important it is, just the time and effort he puts in and the expertise he brings and keeping our kids safe and being able to make sure that our kids are healthy and doing preventive stuff to make sure that they keep from injury, and also putting them on a timeline of getting them back to competition and their full 100 percent health back,” Skirball said. “It’s been invaluable.”
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