“He shows up…the impact is huge.”
High school can be a tough time in a young person's life, full of temptations and opportunities. For many teenagers, team sports offer a way to avoid trouble and build strengths they will soon need as adults.
But athletic programs can't exist without community support. At Rancho Cotati High School in Rohnert Park, every football game for the past 17 years has kicked off on schedule, thanks to the Cougar's volunteer physician, Michael Sweeney, MD.
He shows up with sutures and splints, ready to treat injuries -- but his eye is on the big picture. "The impact of sports is huge. Some of these kids leave gangs to join the team. They get a new mindset, learn to take care of themselves and stay strong."
Coach Ed Conroy says they've come a long way together. "At our first game, we had injuries and Mike looked at me and asked, 'Do we still have enough kids to play the game?' He's been key in building the teams, and he feels the same way we feel -- like they're our adopted sons."
When Lupe Malnati's sons were on the team, she depended on Dr. Sweeney for advice about more than just football. "I had so many fears. He told me, 'All we can do is warn them about the dangers out there -- disease, injury, and broken hearts.' He really understands teenagers."
And the players? They're glad to have a sports doctor who knows when they should stop. "If someone has a concussion, Dr. Sweeney won't give him his helmet back," says Jason Key. "He knows what's best for us.”