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Chapman Alum First Season as Head AT for a Men’s Pro Soccer Team

n4swuo-b8828717z_120140429093546000gpd19rc5_20She had seen him play many times, shaking defenders before a goal on video. But never before had she met the legendary Pelé face to face.

Alyssa Alpert was sitting in a training facility in Dubai with New York Cosmos players before a preseason-training match last month. Pelé, who played for the Cosmos from 1975-77, wished the team luck.

“He reminded them what they’re playing for and who they’re playing for,” Alpert said. “They’re playing for the Cosmos and the history that the Cosmos have.”

The team was one of the most decorated in the North American Soccer League from 1970 to 1985. After a long hiatus, the team returned to play in 2013, winning the NASL championship.

Alpert, 26, is making history in her own right. The Chapman alumna was recently hired as the head athletic trainer for the Cosmos, one of the few women to hold that position in a male professional sport.

“It’s my dream job. It was something that I had been working for for a while,” Alpert said. “I hope that me having this position opens roles for other females in this league.”

Alpert watched her older sister, Alana, become an athletic trainer and wanted to become one, too.

Alyssa came to Chapman for its athletic training program. Once there, she was able to work with the Anaheim Ducks and the dance company Radio City Rockettes.

She also worked with Chapman softball, men’s soccer, football and men’s lacrosse.

“Her senior year, it’s almost like she’s the athletic trainer for that team. And the certified athletic trainer that’s supervising her is just sort of honing and tweaking those skills,” said Pam Gibbons, head athletic trainer at Chapman.

It wasn’t until a class trip to Germany did her dream of becoming an athletic trainer crystallize. She and her classmates visited FC Bayern Munich, one of the premier soccer clubs in Europe.

“I knew from that point on that I was going to do whatever it took to be able to work in a professional setting, especially with soccer,” Alpert said.

Studying at Chapman, a Division III school, Alpert worked with athletes who were not likely to play professional sports. Division III athletes, who don’t get athletic scholarships, play for the glory of their home student-section crowd rather than thousands of fans in a big arena.

“I actually think being at a Division III helped me,” Alpert said. “Every athlete that plays in Division III is there because they love what they’re doing. You’re working with athletes that have the dedication, drive and desire to be where they are.

“In a professional sports setting, this is their life. This is their career. This is their job. This is what they love doing. And I know obviously you get that in higher divisions as well, but to me, you feel that so much in Division III.”

She graduated from Chapman in 2010 and received her master’s in psychology from Long Island University Post, working with many of the university’s teams.

Alpert was then ready to make the jump to the pros.

Working with the New York Cosmos in various athletic-training capacities last season, she helped with the 2013 Cosmos Copa tournament.

But before being hired as head athletic trainer, though, she was tested. The Cosmos granted her a two-week trial to see how she fit in with the team, how she treated athletes and how she ran her athletic training room.

Suddenly, she had more in common with the players she was treating. Tryouts were held during those same two weeks, so Cosmos hopefuls were giving their all each day, fighting to gain a contract. Alpert did the same, determined to stay. Both jobs were on the line.

“I felt like I was one of those athletes, coming in, not knowing if I had a starting spot, not knowing if I was going to be able to be with the team in the next few weeks,” Alpert said. “It was tough, but I just had to come in and prove myself and do everything in my power to prove that I was the one that should be there, that that spot was mine.”

But for many women, gaining a spot in male professional sports is rare.

Sue Falsone became the first female head athletic trainer in Major League Baseball after the Dodgers promoted her in 2011. Judy Seto has been a long-time athletic trainer with the Lakers. Ariko Iso was the first female athletic trainer in the NFL, spending nine years as an assistant athletic trainer with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the NASL, Beth Barton serves as head athletic trainer for the Atlanta Silverbacks.

Though these women are exceptions rather than the norm, female participation in athletic training in general is booming.

In 2011, just more than half of all National Athletic Trainers’ Association members were women.

It never occurred to Alpert that she couldn’t become a head athletic trainer in a male professional sport, especially with her sister as role model and the gender dynamic of Chapman’s program.

Alana Alpert, an assistant athletic trainer at Clarkson University, helped the women’s ice hockey team to an NCAA Championship this past season.

Chapman’s program is approximately 60 percent female, associate dean and professor Ky Kugler said. Chapman’s intercollegiate athletic training staff is entirely female.

But a division of labor still exists in some collegiate and professional teams, where male athletic trainers work with men’s teams and female athletic trainers work with women’s teams.

“The administration or the higher-ups in male sports, they worry about a female in the locker room and what does that look like,” Gibbons said. “And I think part of that is understanding that athletic trainers are medical professionals. They’re not there in any other capacity. They’re there to provide medical care for the athletes and for no other reason.”

The Cosmos sought the most qualified athletic trainer regardless of gender, and Alpert has fulfilled that role well, Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese said.

“She works very hard,” Savarese said. “We don’t see her as if she was a man or a (woman); she just does the job that we need and she does it in a great way. So that’s why we’re very content that she’s with us.”

Now that NASL play is in full swing, Alpert could inspire young women to pursue athletic training in male pro sports.

“When (young women) go to a baseball game or they go to a soccer game and they see a female standing on the sideline, it just opens up their eyes and they can realize that, ‘I can do that. I can work with that team just like anybody else can,’” Alana Alpert said.



Courtesy of Mirin Fader, Orange County Register

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