Courage at its Highest

March 5, 2024 by Kristin Carroll
Kerri Reeves, a white woman, smiles at the camera.

This year, the National Athletic Training Month theme, “From Head to Toe,” highlights the whole-body, whole-person care ATs provide their patients. Throughout March, NATA Now is highlighting members from across the settings. These eight ATs, also featured in the March NATA News, are examples of how ATs are advancing the profession through their direct and indirect efforts.


It’s an educator’s worst nightmare: An angry student trying to enter the school armed with a gun. Late in the afternoon on Nov. 2, 2023, this was exactly what Kerri Reeves, MAT, LAT, ATC, an athletic trainer with Smiths Station High School in Smiths Station, Alabama, faced. In the moment, she did what many wouldn’t – she stepped in front of the armed student.

The student and his intended target had an altercation following an “unusual” basketball practice where both the girls’ and boys’ teams were practicing in the same gym, Reeves said. After the coach broke the fight up, the boy left and went out to his car. Both the coach and Reeves thought the student was leaving, until the coach saw him coming back with a gun. The coach secured one set of doors, while Reeves ran to secure the school’s front doors.

“He forced the front door open,” Reeves said. “There were three or four kids behind me, including the one he was after. I thought, ‘If I move, we’re all screwed.’ So, I just started yelling and walking toward him. He eventually ran away.

The 16-year-old student was later arrested and charged as an adult with multiple charges, according to local media. For her heroic actions, Reeves, who is employed by the Columbus, Georgia-based Hughston Clinic, received the Piedmont Columbus Regional’s First Friday Heroes award in January.

Reeves said her training as an AT helped in the moment, arming her with compassion for everyone involved, including the would-be shooter.

“They’re not my kids, but they are my kids because of athletic training,” she said. “You don’t want to see anybody you care about get hurt. My initial thought was, ‘I don’t want the person behind me to be shot, but I also don’t want this kid to go to jail for life for murder. How do I defuse this?’”

Reeves recommends athletic trainers, especially those in the secondary school setting, go over a shooter-related emergency action plan with their employers.

“You’re never really prepared for it, but at least you know where your kids need to go,” she said. “Know your ins and outs. My coach did an excellent job trying to stop the kid. The only other thing he could have done was punch the kid in the face. The other coaches got the other kids in the locker room and locked the doors. It’s a tough discussion to have, but nowadays you have to have it.”

Building Relationships

Reeves provides care to students from sixth to 12th grade. With the younger students, she said a lot of her job is establishing relationships and explaining her role in their sports. Relationships are her biggest way of caring for athletes “From Head to Toe,” providing everything from medical care to a listening ear.

“The older kids know I have an open door policy for anything mental to physical,” she said. “With the little kids, it’s teaching them that I’m here for them.”

Reeves has been an athletic trainer for 13 years, six of those spent in the secondary school setting. In her current role at Smiths Station, she said she feels like the entire community has embraced her and made her feel like part of their lives.

“It’s the most comfortable place I’ve been,” she said. “I can show up at people’s houses and they’ll cook a meal or invite me to dinner or other events.”

The relationships Reeves has established with her athletes has led at least two to pursue the profession. She also mentors seven athletic training student aides. For the students who want to take their interest further, Reeves tells them it’s important to find something they love.

“This is something you’re going to do for the rest of your life,” she said. “You don’t want to dread going to work. I don’t mind getting up and coming to work because every day is different. You have to find something that’s going to intrigue you and motivate you.”

Reeves also called out the professional relationships ATs build with one another when they’re a part of NATA and their state association. They can lean on one another in good times, like celebrating National Athletic Training Month, and bad.

“You meet some of the greatest people at places like NATA,” Reeves said. “People who understand you and what you go through every day.”