New Faces in the Sport Medicine Center

Samantha Wall and Charles “CJ” Harper joined the Groton Athletics Department this winter term to fill the vacancies left by Art Cheeks, our former Head Athletic Trainer and Cory Varell, our former Strength and Conditioning Coach. While students left campus for summer accustomed to seeing the familiar faces of Christine Alarcon (former athletic trainer), Cory, and Cheeks in the halls of the Athletic Center, by their return from Winter Break an entirely new staff had taken over the Sports Medicine Center. Ms. Wall and CJ joined Jackie Nolan, who took over from Christine at the start of the new year, and now the department looks to build on the work of its predecessors while still adapting to meet the ever-changing needs of its athletes.

Samantha Wall is our new Head Athletic Trainer stepping into the big shoes left behind by Art Cheeks, who left after fall term to become the deputy chief of the Groton Fire Department. She worked at Phillips Academy Andover and Tabor Academy as an assistant trainer and both taught and led a dorm at Tabor. Given her extensive background working with high schoolers, she hopes to create a welcoming and individualized experience for each athlete.

Ultimately, Ms. Wall aims to “keep the strong program and to keep the athletic training room a space where students feel comfortable.”

Ms. Wall also wants to introduce holistic and manual therapy techniques into the program such as “yoga, meditation, cupping, and the Graston technique” (a manual therapy for back pain). These new methods of treatment could foster more long-term treatments, with benefits in injury prevention and rehabilitation rather than just short term response to existing injuries, since one of her key focuses is to “think about the physical and mental long term.”

Ms. Wall has also tried to make the training room more efficient and less intimidating by making sure the people in the room are actively seeking treatment. She has also been cautious in confirming injuries and her knowledge and skills shine through.

“She knows what she’s doing. She takes my issues and me seriously,” said Elena Junkala ’21. Elena added that Ms. Wall encourages students to address any discomfort early on before it develops into a serious injury.

CJ, our new Strength and Conditioning Coach, hails from a rich background of athletic training. Before Groton, he interned at schools such as College of the Holy Cross and Harvard and most recently worked as the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Malden Catholic High School. CJ has been running a more structured program than Cory this winter, as conditioning athletes who have worked with both coaches commented. He began the term by enforcing the same workout for all conditioning athletes and slowly allowed for more flexibility.

CJ’s vision for the program is to “educate to the point where everyone is focused on athletic and functional movements.”

He bases his training from a safety standpoint – making sure that he knows what everyone is doing, and that everyone has a plan. He also compromises with the athletes as long as they have a thought out plan and focus on progressive overload (day-by-day, purposeful improvement). He strives to individualize each athlete’s workout for it to suit them most effectively whether the end goal is to run faster, lift heavier, or to be more flexible.

“The man may seem scary but he’s a giant teddy bear. I like what he’s done in the weight room making sure everyone is focused,” said Magnus Miller ’21.

Selah Barett ’21 added, “CJ is always positive, lively and excited, and he wants you to get the most out of every workout.” 

CJ pushes each student but also says that 75 percent of his job is to teach them their limitations and enforce rest to make sure they are safe and healthy.

Both new members of the Athletic Department wish to foster a more inclusive environment especially towards the younger students. Ms. Wall hopes to make herself a “known face in the younger grades, and hopefully extend a warm invitation for them to come into the space.”

Similarly, CJ has started making little changes in the weight room to make the space less intimidating and less dominated by upper schoolers, such as lowering the volume and varying the content of music in the space.

The new additions to our athletic program have been invaluable since the loss of two of our trainers and our Strength and Conditioning Coach. Both CJ and Ms. Wall hope to develop our program based upon the already strong established base and to help our athletes excel while being safe and efficient.