The definition of medicine is, “the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.” One man has checked all of these boxes plus many more for athletes from Paris Independent School District and more across Lamar County.
Chad Helberg, who has served as Paris High School’s head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director for the last 25 years, has answered the call on a consistent basis. Although he had different aspirations in his youth, sports helped shape Helberg’s future career path.
“I’ve always liked sports, I’ve always been around sports, and it was all I wanted to play college football all of my life,” Helberg said. “I played peewee ball at Clarksville, then I went on to play at Clarksville High School. I tore my ACL and MCL my senior year, and we had a lady that was a probation officer at Clarksville that was actually an athletic trainer, too. She evaluated me and during that process, I realized that was what I wanted to do.”
After gaining motivation from a woman who helped him through injuries at Clarksville High School, Helberg drew inspiration from another local physician, who had high hopes for his potential role in the community.
“I actually hurt my knee during my freshman year. I was having some growing issues since I was growing so fast, so I went to physical therapy and Doug Wehrman was my physical therapist,” Helberg said. “I kept having issues throughout high school, but I remember Doug asked me what I wanted to do during my freshman year and I told him I wanted to do physical therapy. He told me he wanted me to come back and work for him at the Paris Physical Therapy Clinic, and I told him that I would. Four more years pass and I went back to physical therapy again. Doug always called me Todd because he couldn’t ever remember my name and he really pushed a lot of us, and he’s the one that really guided me and helped me get started with physical therapy.”
Even though he realized his calling, Helberg wanted to ensure sports were in the mix for his career, which led him to pursue a unique opportunity.
“I was going to be a physical therapist at first, but I still wanted to deal strictly with sports,” Helberg said. “Doug Wehrman is a local physical therapist here, and he’s the one that asked me if I wanted to do sports medicine, which ties into athletic training, and that is what I did. I graduated from college in the Spring of 1994 and I did my student teaching in the Spring of 1995. I got hired in the Summer of 1995 as the first athletic trainer in the history of Paris High School.”
Since he began his new job as the head athletic trainer at Paris High School in 1995, Helberg has not missed a beat. The Wildcats’ seasoned athletic trainer enjoys each day of work and his energy tanks are fueled by the kids he shows up for each day.
“I love getting up and going to work every day. That’s probably the biggest highlight of my day except for being with my wife,” Helberg said. “I love being around the kids, I love being around sports, and I love the process of getting an injured kid back on the field. There’s a lot of kids in this area that may not have a mom or dad at home, so a lot of them may see us as the only parent they have. So if I can be an influence or someone that can be there for them every day — someone that is a glass-half-full type of person and a positive influence — hopefully it helps them know that I’m there for them. The bottom line is that I love being here, and this COVID-19 has been driving me nuts because I haven’t been able to see the kids, talk to them, or be around them this whole time until now…I love getting up early and going to work, and I hope God gives me the ability to do it for another 90 years. I don’t ever think I will retire.”
Since he is around high school-aged students more than most adults, Helberg has put in the work to learn how he can best serve them, more than what his job title calls for.
“The kids want to have somebody that wants them to be successful,” Helberg said. “They want someone to love them, and some of these kids don’t have that. If it means me sitting there and listening to them moan and groan about something, that’s what we’re here for. God put us on this earth to be servants, and that’s what we should do to help take care of and be there for these kids. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t learn something new about a kid. It is a very positive situation to be in, and I’m very fortunate to be in this position. We are so diverse here as it is in the human population. We all instill equality across the board and help kids react to situations better. I tell the kids that you always get more with sugar and honey than you do with licorice and spices…I think we have the most important job in America in dealing with adolescents today…We as a society are too harsh to react without thinking of consequences or thinking about what a certain kid is going through outside of school. We have to help them be successful.”
Outside of Paris ISD, Helberg tries to keep his life how he likes it best with late-night TV and a cold Diet Dr. Pepper in hand.
“I tend to stay up late and get up early — it doesn’t bother me,” Helberg said. “If I get three or four hours of sleep, I’m ready to go. Me being a night owl might be pretty shocking to some people. One of my biggest vices is drinking Diet Dr. Pepper and watching TV…I’ve watched all the NCIS shows and I’ll watch other programs like ESPN. Everyone knows I’m opinionated, I’m going to tell you what I think and I won’t beat around the bush. No one is ever going to wonder what I’m thinking, but I have gotten smarter over the last 20 years in how and when I say things, so I do have some reserve sometimes.”
As he said before, Helberg never fears saying what he thinks. In addition to this, Helberg will not pass up a time to scope out his school storage room or ride around on his tractor to help blow off any steam work may produce.
“My spot is either in the storage room or on my tractor,” Helberg said. “I usually go to the storage room and find something to work on or fiddle with, and the best way for me to destress is getting on my tractor. I’ll just go to town and work, shred trees, and just ride around. I can’t hear my phone when I’m out there either. I like to watch Sportscenter for a couple of hours after games just as a way to wind down, which is important to do because this job can be pretty stressful at times.”
In his high school years, Helberg recalls a low moment as a Clarksville baseball player. He gained redemption, but it certainly came at a cost.
“I was playing a summer league baseball game in high school against Mount Pleasant,” Helberg said. “I was playing third base of all places even though I normally played first base. They hit a ground ball to me, I bobbled it, I got mad, and then I spiked it. When I spiked it, it bounced over everyone’s head and rolled all the way into the back left corner of the outfield. When I spiked it, we were winning the ball game, but two kids scored and we went down by one run. I stood in the middle of the field afterward with my whole team looking at me…I could have crawled underneath the dirt I was so embarrassed…We got out of the inning down by one run, and I was in the hole feeling a little unsteady. The kid in front of me got on, I got hit by a ball to get on base, and then I advanced to second after a passed ball. We had runners on second and third, we were down by one run in the bottom of the seventh, and I will never forget what happened next. The ball was hit in the outfield with two outs, which scored my teammate from third base. We tied it up, but I kept telling myself, ‘I gotta score.’ I came around third base, the coach was holding me up, but I ran right through the sign. When I rounded the corner, the catcher already had the ball in his hands. I ran straight over the top of him and knocked the ball out of his hands. Then, I touched home plate and we won the ball game. I’ll never forget it.”
As he was once on the receiving end of an unfortunate experience, Helberg has also been a spectator for those who fall victim to different athletic misgivings where he still decided to step in after he got a good laugh from what he saw and heard.
“I’ll never forget one of our coaches saying to one of our running backs that he was going to send him to work with the offensive linemen since he was having a hard time with his blocking,” Helberg said. “This guy trying to teach the kid was an older gentleman, and this kid still couldn’t do it. After he messed up again, the coach told the player that he was going to rip his arms off and beat him over the head until the cows come home. He also told the player that he would make him look like Bullwinkle before he dismissed him to go work with the offensive linemen. That might be the funniest thing I heard, but then I saw the kid kind of tearing up and asked him if he was okay. The player as worried when he told me, ‘I really think he’s going to rip my arms off.’ I told him that wouldn’t happen and he just needed to do what the coach was asking him to do…After we talked about it a little bit, he figured it all out…He was more worried about upsetting his coach instead of getting the drill right, but that was a time where I heard something funny, stepped in to help the situation, and made sure it was all good at the end.”
Helberg will aim to keep as many local athletes as healthy as possible when sports officially begin in the area. The Lady Wildcats volleyball team opens up its regular season at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at home against Prairiland, while the Paris High School football team will kick off the 2020 season at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28 at Arkansas High.