Throughout Andrea Bagnell’s career as an athletic trainer she has been in the company of, and treated, many of the nation’s and world’s best athletes.
While Sedona Red Rock High School’s athletes are not collegiate All-Americans or Olympians, Bagnell sees a greater value in her new role as the Scorpions’ athletic trainer than those in her storied past.
“I think [athletic training] can make the biggest impact at the high school level,” Bagnell said. “I’m 55, I’m kind of getting to the twilight of my career and I just wanted to make sure that I could be a difference maker. Not that I wasn’t a difference maker before but I want to build a program. I want these kids to know sports medicine I want them to know what an athletic trainer does and is.”
The beginning of her career came in a somewhat forced manner. In 1982 she went to the University of Tennessee to play basketball under late legendary coach Pat Summitt. Summitt would become a key figure in her groundbreaking and successful career.
But first came that forced pivot from athlete to trainer at Tennessee; in line for playing time before Bagnell was Lea Henry. Henry eventually became a four-time All-American and two-time Olympian. So it was understandable that she changed direction.
“Most athletic trainers become athletic trainers because they’re not good enough to play,” Bagnell said. “We’re frustrated athletes.”
With no prior experience or knowledge, Summitt encouraged her to be the team’s trainer. It was a different time. People took chances, trusting in others’ ability to learn on the fly, and in Bagnell’s case in the literal sense. Bagnell was traveling with the team to play against the likes of UCLA and USC, frantically reading books to absorb as much as possible.
“They would send me on these plane trips with this No. 1 team in the nation and I’d be by myself. And I didn’t know what I was doing,” Bagnell said. “Back then it was trial and error, you don’t do that now .... They just trusted me.”
In 1984 Summitt helped Bagnell get her first big opportunity; be her team’s trainer for the 33rd Olympiad in Los Angeles. But Bagnell turned it down because of her prior commitment to study her master’s degree at Old Dominion University.
From 1984 to 1985 she studied and was a trainer with the Monarchs, where she actually won a national championship before Summitt.
In order to take the National Athletic Trainer’s Association test, Bagnell needed experience working football, something Old Dominion did not have. Back then women did not work football anyway. Summitt helped change that, she told Tennessee’s head football coach Johnny Majors that Bagnell was going to work with his team.
She was the first ever woman to work football for the Volunteers.
“She went to bat for me, and she told Johnny Majors that I was going to be the first female to work it and he was going to let me work it,” Bagnell said. “I just remember Pat called me in her office and she said ‘OK you’re going to work football and don’t screw up. Because you’re setting the bar high and you’re going to set the bar for every other female behind you.’”
“Be a difference maker ... go big or go home. Here’s what she told me, ‘You’re either all in or you’re not.’”
Bagnell did not screw up, but it was a rough time. Majors only referred to her as “the girl,” calling out for her that way on a megaphone from the scaffolding at spring practice. She was not sure if he even knew her name.
Opportunities aside, Summitt gave Bagnell something more important.
She instilled an attitude of undying desire to succeed.
“She was the most intense person I have ever met, and I have been around a lot of men,” Bagnell said. “If anything I can say Pat Summitt gave me the drive because she was the most driven, motivated person, and just intense.”
Bagnell ran station to station, focused and never slacked off with that team. She would not have been allowed to anyway, but nonetheless she worked hard enough to make her worth undeniable.
After graduation she became the head women’s athletic trainer at Auburn University. There, from 1986 to 1988, she was a part of three NCAA Final Four appearances in women’s basketball.
She then went to the University of Georgia and Athens Sports Medical Clinic from 1990 to 1997. Fast forward through raising her two boys Alex and Sam, and she started the Gila Institute for Technology program in Thatcher.
For eight years she worked with Thatcher High School athletes on top of educating others from six high schools at GIFT, the only accredited program in Arizona.
Eastern Arizona College approached her with the proposition of starting a program there, so she began to teach high schoolers in the morning and junior college students in the afternoon on top of working with six teams.
May 12 was her last day, and on June 5 she started at Red Rock as athletic trainer and sports medicine teacher.
“I just was ready for my last 10 years, to be an impact, make an impact on these kids,” Bagnell said. “I’ve had the glamour, I’ve had the glory, I’ve had the national championships and stuff, now it’s time for me to give back to the profession.”
She said 89 students signed up for her class but only 25 could be enrolled. During the first couple of weeks they will learn about heat illnesses, dangers of lightning, and how to splint. They have to be prepared for the fall Scorpions sports upcoming contests.
“They’ve got to be my eyes on the field and so I’ve got to make sure they’re ready.”
Now in her 34th year, after taking care of Olympians, professionals and NCAA Division I athletes, perhaps Bagnell’s biggest challenge yet will be inspiring a new generation of athletic trainers. But it is a challenge she takes on with just as much enthusiasm as she has with all the rest.