Wes Dickey always carries his medical bag in his car. Whether he’s going on a family trip, heading to an athletic event or en route to work as the Woodland High principal, it’s always there … just in case.
When Woodland High opened in 1997, Dickey was there. He was on the original staff as an athletic trainer and sports medicine teacher after serving for three years in the same capacity at Colonial High in Orlando, Florida. Dickey spent seven years in the role at Woodland before pursuing a move into administration that culminated in taking over as the school’s principal entering the 2016-17 school year.
During the process of working his way up, Dickey served as assistant principal at the high school and Woodland Middle School at different times ahead of taking over as principal at the middle school. Through it all, the Brunswick native maintained his athletic training certification.
Every now and again, Dickey would examine a student-athlete sent to him by a coach or attend events the school would host with his medical bag in tow.
Last year, Dickey attended the GHSA wrestling traditional state tournament in Macon. He noticed Woodland head coach Adrian Tramutola having to help one of his athletes who had suffered an injury.
“Gavin Nix started bleeding out of his nose, so I ran out there,” Tramutola recalled. “[Dickey] was like, ‘I can’t believe our coach is out there having to clean up one of our kids. You don’t even have gloves on.’ … He said, ‘Coach, I have got my med kit here.’
“Typically, trainers don’t come with us on trips for wrestling. I was like, ‘Heck yeah.’ We went over and got him a band and got him on the floor. Now, not only do we have a trainer but also our principal is with us, and he’s got a front row seat to the state finals.”
Despite helping Tramutola and the wrestling Wildcats at state, Dickey still wasn’t returning to his roots all that often, until this fall during a transition between permanent athletic trainers. Being asked to serve as the head athletic trainer during Woodland football games, Dickey remembered how much he enjoyed using the opportunity to connect with students.
“I did miss it, but I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I got back into it,” Dickey said. “It’s kind of a best of both worlds. I can be there to support them as an administrator, but I can support them in a medical sense, as well. I think the kids appreciate that. I think they like seeing a more human side to their principal.”
Woodland head football coach Tony Plott said he could see the joy Dickey felt serving as the team’s trainer. Early in the process, some of the athletes questioned Dickey’s credentials. Without needing to show off his bachelor’s degree in sports medicine from Valdosta State, Dickey certainly proved to any skeptical Wildcats that he knew what he was doing.
“It’s one of the few times I’ve seen him smiling from ear to ear this year, when he was out here with us,” Plott said. “[He had] no worries. He wasn’t Dr. Dickey the principal; he was Mr. Wes Dickey, the trainer, when he was out here with us.
“I think he enjoyed it a lot. He did a great job.”
It wasn’t until after the 2018 football season ended and winter sports had already started that Woodland managed to hire someone to fill the sports trainer position on a permanent basis. Even still, Dickey remains on hand at most athletic events, serving as the on-site administrator and backup trainer in case a situation involving multiple injuries arises.
When the Woodland wrestling team reached the state duals semifinals last month, Dickey was on hand to help Tramutola and his athletes. In the finals against Buford on Jan. 19, freshman Carson Bailey suffered a hip injury in the 106-pound match. It forced Dickey to face a situation unlike almost any other he could encounter as a trainer.
In high school wrestling, there’s an injury clock. It gives the wrestler a maximum of 90 seconds recovery time, or from Dickey’s point of view, 90 seconds to assess the injury and determine whether Bailey can continue.
In his minute and a half, Dickey was able to get Bailey calmed down enough to answer questions. Once he had ruled out a fracture, Dickey wanted to see if Bailey could be “functional” and make sure the hip could do everything it should. After Bailey proved he could squat down and stand back up without issue, his principal-trainer gave his coach the thumbs up.
Had Bailey forfeited the match, Buford would have picked up a vital six points. Instead, the Wolves only earned three from a minor decision. In the end, it helped Woodland secure the state championship in a 36-30 win.
“You can see what it meant to him, when we won,” Tramutola said of Dickey. “Almost all our wrestlers are going up to him and giving him a hug. It provides almost like a safety blanket for us, too, because you have one of your own people there. You don’t have to worry about, ‘Is this person qualified? Have they even been doing it long enough to make an accurate decision on whether or not a kid can continue or make a diagnosis?’
“Having him there with us with all of his years of experience, I know if he looks at me and says, ‘He can’t go, coach.’ Then he’s not going. I know I trust his judgement in every aspect of school, of sports. If he tells me the kid can go, the kid can go. It’s a unique situation. He filled in a bunch at the beginning of the year before our new trainer got here, and I’ll be honest with you, I think it sparked some old memories for him. … It looks to me like he’s enjoying it a whole lot.”
As much as Dickey clearly enjoys being able to build bonds through his work as a trainer, there are plenty of difficult times, particularly when athletes suffer significant injuries. And sometimes Dickey’s need to help people spills over into the world outside the Woodland hallways and away from the athletic fields, courts and mats.
At approximately 7:30 a.m. on a rainy October morning, Dickey was heading south on Highway 61 near the Cartersville airport. He was preparing to turn left onto Old Alabama Road to head to the high school, when a transfer truck struck the car of a Phoenix Air employee heading north.
Dickey and a Woodland High student in the car in front of him both stopped to check on the woman. The principal took his medical bag to assess her injuries as emergency services were summoned. Dickey didn’t end up needing to apply any first-aid measures, but he did help get the woman, who was visibly shaken up and exhibiting some concussion-like symptoms, calmed down.
Having a background in medicine, Dickey felt obligated to do all he could to assist in the situation. However, he was impressed that one of his students took the time on his way to school to help someone in need.
“It was one of our students who did the right thing, stopped and ran across to try to check on the lady,” Dickey said. “He actually stayed there with me the whole time until her husband got there and, of course, the police came. I was very proud of the fact that one of our students did that.”
Even though he hopes not to be needed at the scene of another car accident, Dickey will probably always be prepared for such an occurrence. As long as he’s serving Woodland — in probably any capacity — he’ll also be at the ready to help his students or their opponents whenever needed.
Now that the athletic trainer position has been filled, Dickey won’t be called upon nearly as often to step up. He’ll still be on hand at many athletic events, including he hopes the final day or two of this year’s wrestling traditional state tourney, and he’ll have his bag, or at least his fanny pack, if the school is hosting multiple games on the same day.
But the connections Dickey’s made in his time working with the current Woodland athletes on a more personal level are the kind of relationships he hopes to build with every student at the school.
“Some of them knew that I did that, that I was an athletic trainer. Some of them did not, they didn’t actually believe it until they saw me out there with my medical bag,” Dickey said. “… They see you as being a little bit more human, and not someone who is wearing a shirt and tie and a suit everyday, handing out instructions for the school and directing all these people who are trying to get these kids to graduate.
“They see that he’s a living, breathing person that you can carry a conversation with. That’s what I want. When I see the kids in the hallway, I want them to realize, they can come up and talk to me at anytime about anything. I’ve got kids who will do that, and that’s what makes it worth it.”