Before Mike Mancias and Joe Resendez became athletic trainers in the NBA, they were fueled by coffee through late-night study sessions in Jim Lancaster’s training room.
Lancaster, then and now the head athletic trainer at UTRGV, remembers showing up at his normal time of 7 a.m. one morning about 15 years ago to find his taping table turned into a boxing ring for small figures built from tongue depressors and medical tape.
“They come back in and say, ‘We got crazy last night. We were staying up, we were delirious, and we started doing goofy things,’” Lancaster said. “It was those little fun things that kind of got us through.”
Now in his 36th year at UTRGV, Lancaster has seen countless athletes, coaches and assistants come and go. In recognition of all he’s accomplished and the many different hats he’s worn during his tenure, Lancaster is being inducted into UTRGV’s Hall of Honor during a luncheon at 11 a.m. today in the UTRGV Ballroom.
Since taking the job at then-Pan American University in 1980, Lancaster has been an equipment manager, facilities director, awards program coordinator, Hall of Fame committee member and even interim athletics director. Now, he’s the associate athletic director for sports medicine.
“It’s kind of like, that’s what you do,” Lancaster said. “You get set, you get established, you make a name for yourself, and you stick with something. You’re part of the program, and it’s a program you can be proud of. I think that’s kind of what I did.”
Lancaster got his start as a student assistant at UT, including a trip to see Texas and Earl Campbell take on Joe Montana and Notre Dame at the 1978 Cotton Bowl.
He became intertwined in the fabric of Pan American University, working with coaches from Al Ogletree, to Lon Kruger, to Abe Lemons and through all the coaches of present day. When Chris King came aboard as UTPA’s athletics director in 2009, he called on Lancaster’s wealth of experience to try to forge the way forward.
“All of the responsibility he had, he was a good resource for me as a young, brand new athletic director,” King said. “So it’s been good to have Jim on board. … He was able to give me perspective in regards to here’s how we’ve done it, to be able to do more with less.”
On top of producing Mancias, now with the Cavaliers, and Resendez, now with the Clippers, Lancaster has molded many of the Valley’s high school athletic trainers.
Combing over the 2014-15 Rio Grande Valley Athletic Trainers Directory on Thursday, Lancaster highlighted 18 names that have come through his program.
Jimmy Cantu, now with Brownsville Lopez, and Marie Thompson, now with La Joya High, were his first two assistants. Together, the trio handled all of the school’s athletic training needs for the 1980-81 season.
“He took care of me and allowed me to just spread my wings and learn as I went,” Cantu said. “He made me the trainer I am now, man. I owe a lot to him. He’s really been there for me.”
Said Thompson: “Jim was a good instructor. If it hadn’t been for that, I don’t think I’d be where I am now.”
Today, Lancaster works with a much larger staff. Beyond an expansive group of student volunteers, Lancaster oversees three full-time assistant athletic trainers. Since joining the staff in September, men’s basketball assistant trainer David McDonald has seen how Lancaster uses jokes and a talkative nature to be a calming influence on athletes.
“I think a lot of the student athletes clearly respect him, but also like him a whole lot,” McDonald said. “He’s a very friendly guy.”
Now in a more administrative role, Lancaster made an effort to hire people like McDonald, who bring a better formal education than he received in his day. He leaves much of the athletic training to them, instead handling most of the paperwork and bills.
Still, he works daily with the soccer, baseball and track and field programs. Student trainer Paul Chavana, who has been studying under Lancaster since 2014, said the most impressive thing about Lancaster is his work ethic. He remembers being with Lancaster at 6 a.m. to set up for a morning tennis match, all the way through a baseball game that kept them until 1 a.m. Just six hours later, Lancaster was back in the office at his typical starting time.
“I asked, ‘Jim, how do you do it? Is it the coffee?’” Chavana said. “And he just said, ‘After so long, you notice that people depend on you. People want to get better. People want to represent this school and their colors, and they want to be the best they can. What they need to do is come here, and get better here.’ That’s just what Jim is all about.”
King said Lancaster’s work ethic is second to none. Lancaster credits the trait to his upbringing. Doing odd jobs like setting up chairs in the gym, taking out the trash and washing down coolers comes naturally to him. The commitment to helping wherever he could made him the reasonable choice to take on all the secondary functions he has throughout the years.
Now 58 years old, Lancaster sees the value of stepping into a more administrative oversight role. But passing up the opportunity to be there on game nights, alongside the athletes through all the emotional highs and lows, isn’t easy. He said it’s that part of the job that keeps him going and feeling young.
“I don’t have a problem with working,” Lancaster said. “Sometimes I work too long and turn around and go, ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ I’m dying the next day. My knees are killing me. My back is killing me. I didn’t get any sleep. But pour the coffee, let’s go.”