East Wake athletic trainer honored
Randy Pridgen, shown working on an East Wake High student-athlete, has been an athletic trainer since 1979. Pridgen was recently inducted into the North Carolina Athletic Trainer Association hall of fame for his years of service both as a trainer and an instructor.
There’s no telling how many ankles Randy Pridgen has taped over the last four decades, but that’s just a small part of his career as an athletic trainer.
From the time the Wilson County native first became involved with athletic training while still a student at Beddingfield High in 1979, it has become a passion as much as a profession. Pridgen, currently a teacher and athletic trainer at East Wake High near Wendell, was recently inducted into the North Carolina Athletic Trainers Association in a virtual ceremony.
“It’s just an honor, obviously, because when I look back at my career, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything spectacular,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. “But when you start hearing people say the things about me that they’re saying, it really makes me feel good about myself. But again, it’s just an honor to be, first of all, nominated.”
Pridgen, who has been active both in the NCATA as well as the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Trainers Association, was nominated by NCATA past president Mark White and was inducted along with the late Bill Griffin, another former NCATA president, as the two members of the hall’s 2021 class.
While Pridgen has become synonymous with athletic training in the Wilson area, his impact on the profession is much greater across the state through his involvement with the student trainer symposium that was his own first exposure to athletic training.
Pridgen, who played basketball at Lee Woodard High, found himself outside the lines when a new school, Beddingfield, opened in time for his senior year. But not far outside the lines, as Pridgen involved himself with several Bruins teams as a manager and scorekeeper. Then-Beddingfield boys basketball coach Al Warwick asked if he would be interested in helping as an athletic trainer for Barton College, then named Atlantic Christian College, and the men’s basketball team under the direction of Bill Robinette.
A few months later, Pridgen was enrolled at Atlantic Christian, which would become his professional home for more than two decades later in his career.
From that experience, Pridgen attended the student trainer clinic that summer in Greensboro, part of the North Carolina Coaches Association’s activities. There he met North Carolina athletic training legends Al Proctor and Robbie Lester. Pridgen was invited back to participate in the clinic and has been a part of it ever since.
The NCATA took over the student trainer clinic in 1995 and Pridgen was appointed co-director. Three years later, he was its sole director. When the NCATA decided to drop its association with the student trainer clinic in 2008, Pridgen took over and has continued it each summer as the N.C. Sports Medicine Symposium.
He said more than 10,000 students attended the clinic since it began in 1963, and he’s probably taught more than 5,000 in his time.
After graduating from ACC in 1983, Pridgen’s first job as an athletic trainer was at Guilford College from 1983-85. He then worked for three years at Enloe High in Raleigh as a teacher and athletic trainer.
During that time, Pridgen was pursuing his master’s degree in health and physical education from North Carolina A&T State University. In August 1988, he returned home to Wilson to start his career as an assistant professor and head athletic trainer at Atlantic Christian, thus beginning a 22-year association with his alma mater.
Pridgen helped build the athletic training program at Barton into a nationally recognized program. More importantly to Pridgen, he built a lot of relationships along the way.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s always the thing that makes me feel good,” he said. “You know, when I was at Barton, we had students that went for either our internship program that I started and after we got our accreditation, saw those students come through, and to just watch them be successful in the things that they’re doing now. It’s just a very rewarding experience to know that I had a small part of their education and leading them where they are now. You know, I think at one point I want to say we probably had close to 20 to 30 students graduated from Barton during my time there, then went on to become certified athletic trainers. Some are still doing training. Several of them have gone to PA school or physical therapy. You know, they’re staying in the health care profession and doing those types of things.”
One of those Barton students, Courtney Bunch Phelps, is now a certified athletic trainer at J.H. Holmes High in Edenton.
“He is so deserving of this honor, and I wouldn’t be who I am without him,” Phelps said.
Another former student trainer, Phaith Jackson, who got her start with Pridgen at Enloe High, recalls the support and inspiration Pridgen provided to her.
“I’m privileged to have been under his wing in the earlier years,” she said. “I learned first aid and first responses to athletic injury on any field during any practice or game. ... He also taught me about being kind to humanity and also about ‘human aid.’ He taught me so much about life, like to always look for ways to improve and to work hard and to strive for perfection each and every time, no matter the task. Most of all, he taught me to be proud of myself for the little things and the big things and to never give up on my dreams.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-4 Pridgen could be considered a gentle giant in terms of his approach to patients.
“I got asked a question the other day. I’ll say this again,” he said. “Am I the best athletic trainer out there? Absolutely not. I think what makes me unique is that I care about people. And I want to make sure that that person is taken care of, just like I would my own child. When a kid gets hurt, that’s my job is trying to make the best decision I can make for that person to take care of them. A lot of times, kids don’t like the decisions I make, but I’m doing it for their own health and safety.”
Pridgen, who left Barton in 2010, was inducted into its athletic hall of fame in 2012. He also served as the head athletic trainer for the Wilson Tobs summer collegiate baseball team from 1997-2011 and has donated his time and expertise at many athletic events, such as The Brittany. He’s also worked to raise the profile of CATs.
“Most athletic trainers now are recognized as health care professionals,” he said. “We still have a long way to go, believe me, in terms of the general public seeing us as a health care professional.”
Pridgen has seen his profession grow from primarily taping ankles and treating minor injuries to being the first responder for much more serious injuries and conditions. Certified athletic trainers are now required at every public school in North Carolina.
“The education of all of these kids have just increased so much with the requirements now that they have to have to graduate from a program, the skills that they have to have, there’s a lot of us kids that are coming out of school now that are much better athletic trainers, and they’re much more prepared than I ever was when I came to school,” he said. “I went through an internship program and a lot of my stuff was hands-on, and now, there’s probably less hands-on, but they’re getting so much more clinical experience in their education program, and they’re getting that knowledge base that we didn’t have. I think the athletic training profession has gone from back when it used to be, ‘I need to learn how to tape an ankle and be able to do wound care.’ Now, you’re there as an emergency responder.”
A hall-of-fame emergency responder, in Pridgen’s case.
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