By Jeff Birchfield
Johnson City Press
Milligan College senior volleyball player Meredith Lynch realized how important it was to have adequate training facilities after suffering a bad ankle sprain last season.
With little space in the training room, she sat on the floor with a bag of ice on her ankle waiting for a table to become available. Thanks to the contributions from the LaPorte family, Milligan athletes no longer have to put up with such cramped conditions.
School officials unveiled the new Citizens Bank Athletic Training Center Monday which adds more than 1,000 square feet of treatment space for the 300 student-athletes at Milligan.
“Our new facility is the nicest and most trainer-friendly facility that I have ever had the privilege of working in,” Buffaloes head trainer Chris McWherter said. “It’s like a big college setting. I couldn’t work at a better place.”
Joe LaPorte III, along with his family, donated funds through the LaPorte Family Foundation for the training center in memory of their late father, Joe LaPorte Jr. According to LaPorte, who currently serves as chairman and CEO of Citizens Bank, the contribution was a way of carrying on a family tradition.
“My father was a real believer in giving back,” said LaPorte. “He attended Milligan before being drafted for duty in World War II. The impact Milligan has had on this region is phenomenal.”
It was mainly through the efforts of Mark Fox, Milligan vice president for student development, that the LaPorte family became aware of the needs for an improved treatment center. There were over 1,500 training room visits and 3,000 total treatments last year alone.
Milligan President Dr. Donald Jeanes said the athletic training room was something the school wanted to improve for several years. He applauded the generosity of the LaPorte family for making the new facility, located in the bottom of Steve Lacy Fieldhouse, become a reality.
“When you’re a small private school and not heavily endowed, it’s a matter of finding resources,” Jeanes said. “The reason this facility is so significant is the LaPorte family decided to fund it. That has been a tremendous benefit to us. We have a great appreciation for the athletes, the self-discipline they show and the recognition they bring to the college.”
Milligan’s 20 intercollegiate athletic teams have enjoyed great success over the past decade. The Buffs have 50 Appalachian Athletic Conference titles and made 57 NAIA national tournament appearances over that span. While coaches and others in the athletic department enjoy touting those numbers, it’s never pleasant to talk about injuries. However, head baseball coach Nathan Meade said it’s something all coaches are forced to deal with.
“It’s one of those inevitables in sports,” Meade said. “It’s something you take for granted until you have someone get in a bad situation with an injury. We’re tickled to death to have a place like this. It’s somewhere we can bring recruits by and show them with pride. It’s a huge improvement.”
Track and cross country head coach Chris Layne mentioned another function of the training room is to take measures to prevent injuries. His sports, which take the motto “No pain, no gain,” to the extreme, often force athletes to push their bodies to the absolute limits. He called the new training center an invaluable resource.
“It’s great to see Chris have the set-up to treat the kids they way they need to be treated,” Layne said. “Especially in a weight-bearing sport like ours, you’re always going to have something going on. To have the preventitive maintenance treatment with the ice bath and the heat, we have the whole network around Chris to treat these kids at a high level.”
McWherter added the school didn’t buy any new equipment, but some of the older pieces which had been stored away because of space restrictions, were now in their proper places. As important as ultilizing the equipment is having the room where the athletes don’t feel too crowded and where they feel comfortable coming in for treatment.
“I had so many athletes who would come to the door, look inside and say, ‘I’ll do it later.’ Then they would walk away,” he said. “I’m so glad we can take care of everybody now.”
For the coaches, another positive of the new facility is seeing the administration working to meet their needs. It shows them an overall commitment to the athletic program not enjoyed at all smaller colleges.
“There is no doubt that the commitment keeps growing,” Layne said. “We have a lot of coaches on our staff that work hard and to see (athletic director) Ray (Smith), Mark (Fox) and Dr. Jeanes listen to the needs the coaches have, it’s great for our performance and Milligan in general.”