Imagine this scenario. It’s fourth and goal from the seven-yard line, 25 seconds on the scoreboard and the Buckhorns are down by four. Rich Palazzi fades back looking to loft up a floater to the streaking Phil Mertine heading for the corner of the end zone and all of a sudden a giant linebacker breaks through and blindsides the trusty QB, knocking him to the ground and drawing an eerie hush from the Purple Pride. There’s no movement and a sense of urgency takes over.


Imagine this scenario. It’s fourth and goal from the seven-yard line, 25 seconds on the scoreboard and the Buckhorns are down by four. Rich Palazzi fades back looking to loft up a floater to the streaking Phil Mertine heading for the corner of the end zone and all of a sudden a giant linebacker breaks through and blindsides the trusty QB, knocking him to the ground and drawing an eerie hush from the Purple Pride. There’s no movement and a sense of urgency takes over.

This is the constant state of pressure that is placed on the shoulders of Athletic Trainer Eric Keller. His decisions must be made in a matter of seconds, and it’s something he has been trained and groomed to do. He evaluates the situation and quickly realizes that Palazzi only had the wind knocked out of him, and will be able to finish the game, and the Bucks end up winning.

Grew Up in Locker Room

 Keller is in his first year as Athletic Trainer at Wallenpaupack Area High School, but is no stranger to the sporting world. “I kind of grew up in the business. My father (Allen “Butch” Keller) has been coaching for thirty plus years now, in multiple sports. He started football at Honesdale High School and then he was coaching the Scranton Eagles. I kind of grew up in the locker rooms.”

Growing up in the locker rooms led Keller on a path that would eventually lead him to the shores of the Big Lake where he could use his expertise gained while attending East Stroudsburg University. He graduated in 1994 with a major in movement studies and exercise management and had a concentration in athletic training, and though with such a devotion to sports as he played football, baseball and basketball at Honesdale High School, he started out as a History major.

“I always loved athletics but I was a History major. The head trainer (at ESU) knew my roommate and he knew my father, so he talked to me and brought me in and I never looked back.”

Those paths that eventually lead Keller to Wallenpaupack started at Marion Catholic High School in New Jersey. “I was at Marion Catholic right out of college, then I was at Sussex Tech High School (New Jersey) and then I went to Jefferson Township High School. When I was in New Jersey I also owned a Physical Therapy Clinic with a friend of mine. After meeting my wife (Lee) I went to Delaware Valley where she was teaching, said Keller.

 With the never ending assault of injuries to players that happens on a daily basis to athletes in all sports, and the constant flow of ankle sprains and shin splints that find their way to Keller’s office he remains optimistic and takes time to enjoy his job. “I love working with High School kids, it’s just fun. It’s a great age. I don’t know if it keeps you young or not, but it’s a lot of fun. The kids are always into something and their always active. I’ve been lucky because pretty much every place I’ve been all the coaches and staff have been good people and a lot of fun to work with, and kids are kids no matter where you go.”

Put to the Test

Through the years. Keller has seen almost everything there is to see in ways of injuries and has been put to the test on several occasions. “In New Jersey, I had an instance in basketball when two players within eight days of each other landed on their head. They went right into impact seizures and one kid thankfully came right around. I ended up having to spine board him and get him out of there by ambulance, but the next kid was unconscious for three days and I had to medi vac him. That was pretty scary. He’s playing in college now (after a full recovery) but it was scary and I was worried.”

With so many casualties coming to Keller on a daily basis it’s hard for him to narrow down and pinpoint just one common injury. “It depends on the sport but ankle injuries are probably the most common, from that to a lot of knee injuries and shoulder injuries and a whole bunch of overuse injuries from shin splints to tendonitis, but there’s so many things,” explained Keller.

Family

One slight drawback to the time, dedication and hours spent either in the office, on the courts, or out on the playing fields is the amount of time he doesn’t get to spend at home with his family. He has two sons at home; A.J., who is four years old, and Ehren, who is just one, and his wife, Lee,  but during the Basketball season they could be found hanging around the courts and benches, just like their father did when he was growing up.

To relieve some of the stress of such a demanding and high paced job Keller enjoys time spent out on the links or the peaceful atmosphere that is involved with fishing and hunting and tries to avoid pro sports on television. “When I go home, honestly the last thing I do is turn on sports. The only time I do like to watch sports is when it comes to college basketball during playoff time, and college football during the bowl games.”

When asked about some of the trade secrets and what’s in that magic water that we see trainers so often use during the World Cup soccer madness, that instantly heals a player who is screaming and flopping around on the ground Keller sits back in his chair and laughs, “I have no idea what it is, the World Cup is a whole different ballgame.”

Keller concluded with some words of wisdom. “Let the kids have fun in sports and let it be fun time to play and just have fun with it like it was meant to be: Compete and learn a lot of skills.”