August 20, 2014
Ithaca, NY 71°F | Rain

Columns

Sports staff mends more than injuries

Sometimes, the quietest person in the room is the loudest. This is the case with many unsung people who help out behind the scenes of Ithaca College’s athletic programs. Though they normally like to stay away from the spotlight, it’s time to turn that light on.

One of these people is head athletic trainer Mike Matheny, who has worked as the athletic trainer for the college’s varsity teams for 27 years, and this year he has worked with men’s soccer, women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse. Matheny said the primary reason he has stayed at the college for more than 25 years is because he has established strong, lasting relationships with colleagues, students and athletes — even attending multiple weddings because of these bonds.

“I honestly think [these relationships] are what makes IC a little different than some other schools,” Matheny said. “I don’t think you necessarily find that everywhere.”

Matheny is the glue of Bomber sports teams, as his time is spent not only physically mending the athletes who represent the college, but also sometimes serving as a necessary social outlet, as athletes pack the training room, often for reasons other than wounds.

“There will be a certain group of athletes on a team, they know they can come talk to me,” Matheny said. “I’m not their coach … I think they just feel like they can vent or just joke around.”

Matheny is the one-liner king who, as junior lacrosse defender John Figarelli said, “Always has an answer.”

When asked how Matheny has helped senior lacrosse captain Jacob Long throughout his career, Long said “with everything.”

On a personal level, I needed medical clearance freshman year because I was six months removed from ACL surgery, which was necessary in order to participate in fall 2010 lacrosse tryouts. While I still needed maps to get around campus, Matheny guided me through the process and took time to work me through agility cone drills, testing my knee just to be sure. He didn’t know me and didn’t know if I’d even make the team, but none of that mattered to Matheny, as he still helped me regardless. Sure it was his job, but I got the feeling he genuinely cared, which wasn’t expected and ultimately became extremely meaningful.

Every athlete at the college has some sort of story akin to mine, where someone has sacrificed or helped him or her, not expecting any public appreciation in return. It could be a trainer like Matheny, a videographer, a custodian cleaning a locker room, an assistant coach, who behind the scenes invests time and effort for the success of the athlete, but will never show up in a box score.

This goes out to people like Matheny whose elbow grease and extra-long hours — either outside during those 6 p.m. sub-zero February practices or in the places where no one is watching — allow the athletes to simply focus on playing their respective sports while on the field.

I know it’s just a column and not a plaque or a medal, but people like Matheny never wanted any recognition in the first place.