McAlester seniors Kaitlyn Wilson and Morgan Engle both grew up in football-loving families. They were both cheerleaders their freshmen year — at Savanna High School in Engle’s case, at McAlester in Wilson’s — but in both cases cheerleading wasn’t quite the right fit.
Wilson became a football trainer at the encouragement of her uncle Eddie Hundley, who works with the Buffs, and former cheer coach Ashlee Shumway. She joined the program during the spring of her freshman year.
Engle said she joined a year later because of Wilson, one of her best friends, and McAlester defensive coordinator Kevin Harmon, one of her teachers. Both she and Wilson said being a trainer has led to deep friendships with both the Buffs players and the other trainers.
“This is your family that you spent four years with,” Wilson said Thursday.
Engle said, “The boys are like our brothers. They really do make us feel good, and they’re always there for us.”
Wilson is a lifelong McAlester resident. Engle moved from Trenton, N.J., to Savanna in the fourth grade when her father got a job at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
Engle was a competitive cheerleader as a kid, then transferred to MHS with about nine weeks left in her freshman year.
Both Engle and Wilson said they quickly learned just how much trainers do behind the scenes. They wash and sort uniforms and equipment, pack travel bags, organize lockers, keep track of game balls and constantly fill and clean water jugs and bottles.
“They don’t ever have to do anything, really,” Engle said of the Buffs. “They just play. We make sure that’s easy on them.”
The trade-off, however, is getting to be on the sidelines during football games. Both Wilson and Engle said they often feel the same emotions as players do during the games, celebrating big Buffs victories and mourning big losses.
Being a trainer even allowed Wilson and Engle to even stand on the sidelines at Oklahoma State University’s Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater as the Buffs played Guthrie in the 2013 state championship.
“I cried,” Wilson said of the championship. “It was so cool. It was just like overwhelming, almost, just to see how excited the boys were.”
Engle’s other activities include McAlester’s Promise, FCCLA and various community service projects such as food and gift drives at McAAP or Hope House of McAlester. Wilson’s include the MHS Afro Student Union, FCCLA, National Honor Society, MHS Student Council and Service Learning, where she helps out at Washington Early Childhood Center.
Wilson also waits tables at Roseanna’s in Krebs.
Both trainers said being a football trainer is by far the most time-consuming of their various activities.
“You can’t do anything other than like Saturday night,” Engle said. “Saturday mornings you have to go up at like 10 and wash clothes all day.”
Wilson and Engle see each other all the time these days, and that could continue next year. Both said they want to attend the University of Oklahoma in Norman — in both cases following in the footsteps of older relatives — then pursue careers in medicine.
Engle said she plans to get a nursing degree at OU, then join the Peace Corps and work abroad. When she returns, she plans to go to medical school.
“If you’re healthy and you’re good, you should give your time to help people that aren’t,” Engle said.
“My mom, she’s always really wanted to be a (veterinarian), but she could never do that because we moved around a lot.”
Engle also just completed a degree in business and information technology at Kiamichi Technology Center in McAlester. She said that’ll help her when she owns her own medical practice.
Wilson plans to go pre-med at OU, then become a pediatrician. She said her grandparents worked for years at the McAlester Regional Health Center, and being a pediatrician would combine her interest in medicine with her love of kids.
Wilson added that being a trainer will make it easier to be a doctor.
“I used to get queasy like when people got sick around me or when I saw blood,” Wilson said.
“You watch people yak, and you get used to it. You’re like, ‘Oh well, can’t get sick anymore. I have to see this every day for four years.’ You see a lot of blood, a lot of scars.”
Wilson is currently taking three classes at Eastern Oklahoma State College’s McAlester campus. She said she plans to take three more next semester.
Football has been Wilson’s dominant activity each of the last three fall seasons, and Engle’s for the last two. Even if McAlester wins a state championship, their time as trainers will likely end within the next month.
Both trainers said they’ll be sorry to see it go.
“I miss it right now,” Wilson said. “I remember first walking into the equipment ever for the first time. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that smell!’ And the girls were like, ‘It smells so good! It smells like football! I miss this smell!’”
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.