Watching a junior varsity baseball game on a recent balmy afternoon, Vista Grande High athletic trainer Stuart Minck was reflecting on a 35-year career that will come to a conclusion when spring sports are finished.
“This is the season I love,” he said, mainly because he knows he’ll be getting home at a decent time.
At age 56, Minck is weary of putting in the long hours his job entails.
“Nights wear me out, the last several years especially,” he said.
Minck has been with the Casa Grande Union High School District for the past 23 years. This is his seventh year at Vista Grande — he has been there since the school opened — following 16 at Casa Grande Union.
On most days, Minck rides his bicycle for 25 miles prior to arriving at Vista Grande at 9 a.m. After teaching a full load of six classes, he tends to the bumps and bruises of the school’s athletes while his student trainers do the bulk of the taping. Then it’s off to one or more of the venues to deliver water and keep tabs on the athletes who are practicing and/or competing on that particular day.
During the fall, Minck won’t be finished with his duties until 6 p.m. at the earliest. It’ll be close to 9 p.m. if there’s a freshman or junior varsity football home game or a home volleyball match. Minck is at the varsity football game on Friday nights. If it’s at home, he’s out the school door around 10:30 p.m. It’s usually a couple of hours later if the game is played on the road.
Winter season is by far the most demanding. With boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer and wrestling, Minck is at the school from three to five nights per week and doesn’t depart the premises until between 8 and 9:15 p.m.
During the spring, his duties normally are over no later than 6 p.m.
If the job entailed just spring sports and Friday night football, “I could do this for another 10 years,” Minck said.
That being out of the question, Minck and his wife, Noelle, are looking forward to a life of semi-retirement on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Once they’re settled in, he and his spouse plan to find employment for a couple of years to become fully vested in the Florida retirement system.
Minck “can’t imagine” being an athletic trainer ever again, saying “I’ll drive a bus if I have to.” But despite the long hours, he has no regrets about choosing a career that has given him an immeasurable degree of satisfaction.
“I’ve probably enjoyed 99 percent of the job,” Minck said. “I love working with kids,” whether it be in the classroom, the training room or the playing fields.
“Stu has been an integral part of our athletic and educational programs,” Visa Grande athletic director Andy Lukievics said. “His knowledge and experience in athletic training has been an asset to all of our athletes who have unfortunately been injured or have needed medical assistance in some way.”
Minck was raised on Long Island, New York, and is a huge fan of the New York Yankees. He began his training career in the late 1970s while obtaining a bachelor’s degree at Pittsburg State in Kansas, where he originally intended to play football. His mentor was local legend Al Ortolani, who was inducted into five halls of fame during his 50 years at the school.
After Ortolani “gave me the blowoff a couple of times,” Minck was assigned to indoor track.
“That hooked me,” he said.
Minck earned a master’s degree from the University of Arizona in 1982 and became certified that spring.
“I learned the bookwork stuff in grad school,” he said. “I learned people skills as an undergrad.”
Before coming to Casa Grande, Minck held teacher/training jobs in Texas, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Illinois. He met Noelle during his four-year stint in Florida, and they will celebrate their 30-year anniversary in August. They have a 28-year-old daughter.
Minck has always had student trainers, and they take a “tremendous load off” his everyday duties by taping, helping to deliver water and loading equipment for away games. As a reward, he and Noelle take them to a sports medicine conference every May in Palm Springs, California, using funds the students raise throughout the year to foot the bill.
Tom Erickson of Sierra Orthopedics has been Minck’s team doctor since 1994.
“It’s a great relationship,” Minck said. “If I have an athlete or student who needs to be seen, they will take them in before the office opens. (Erickson and physician’s assistants Eric Wheeler and Scott McMillan) have made this job immensely easier.”
Minck is serious about his job, but “I like to joke around. I guess I’m fun-loving,” he said. “Then there’s that moment when something happens. I’m good under pressure. I don’t freak out.”
The most devastating incident of his career came in 2003, when a CG Union student-athlete with a congenital heart defect died in the training room.
“They brought him over from the gym where he was playing basketball,” said Minck, who was aware of the boy’s pre-existing condition. There was nothing Minck could do to revive the 17-year-old student, and “that screwed me up for about six months,” he said, even though the boy’s parents assured him that he was not to blame. “It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing before I went to sleep.”
Working at Vista Grande has “been the best overall experience of my career,” he said. “The nice thing about being here is (the school’s administrators) stay out of your way and let you do your job. Everybody gets along.”
Lukievics said Minck’s “personality and demeanor with students, athletes and adults (has) provided an atmosphere of trust, friendship and loyalty. Stu puts in many hours and always has the students first.
“He will be very difficult to replace and will be missed by staff, students and administration.”