He is a staple to the BC Lions franchise: right up there with the late, great Bobby Ackles, GM/head coach Wally Buono, equipment manager Ken “Kato” Kasuya and ex-players such as Geroy Simon, Al Wilson or Willie Fleming, just to name a few. But perhaps the most impressive thing about Bill Reichelt is he has probably served this organization longer than three or four of those gentlemen combined.
Fresh off working his 700th regular season game for the club, the long time athletic therapist has seen it all and done it all with the professionalism and class every working individual, in any profession, should aspire to. Reichelt, who is in his 40th season with the BC Lions, or 63 percent of it’s existence if you break it down that way, reached the 700-game milestone last Saturday and, fittingly, the Lions clutched up by defeating the Edmonton Eskimos 32-25.
So what does 700 mean for the Godfather of all CFL athletic trainers? As you would expect, Reichelt tries his best to downplay the feat. “What comes to mind about the number is that it doesn’t seem very long,” Reichelt said during an interview in one of the Lions’ film meeting rooms.
“You think of the hockey trainers who are up in the thousands, because of course they are playing every second night. So when you put in perspective with playing once a week, it’s going to add up if you’re in it for a number of years. The biggest thing is it just doesn’t seem like that long.”
Wally Buono hasn’t quite reached 700 games as a head coach, he’s at 412 heading into Saturday’s clash in Saskatchewan, but the CFL’s all-time wins leader knows full well what goes into a lifetime with one organization.
“Since I’ve been here, Billy has been an anchor downstairs, he’s really good at what he does,” Buono said. “You’ve got to have good people down there. They’re the ones that hear all the griping and usually the ones that put out the fires and when you have a guy like Billy who gets along well with the players and yet is firm with them, I think it’s very valuable.”
He doesn’t run on the field to treat players much anymore; that’s what two knee replacements can do, but at age 66, Reichelt still has his fingerprints all over the Lions’ athletic training team. As the club’s Director of Medical Services, Reichelt acts as a boss and mentor to a training staff that includes Tristan Sandhu, Ryan Raftis, Chris Wong as well as the strength and conditioning wing led by Chris Boyko and Aaron Chew.
Four decades with the organization means Reichelt has no shortage of stories and characters he has worked with. The ones that always spring to mind are the players who made up the Lions’ 1994 Grey Cup championship squad, a motley crew of characters that was best known for fighting with one another.
“The players were just nuts,” Reichelt said with emphasis on the last word. “I tell this story to guys all the time, we’d be taping or treating guys and all of a sudden a fight would break out and the tables would be turned, all our machines were on the ground, the guys were fighting and then they’d just go out and kick the crap out of whatever team we’d be playing.”
The term “everything happens for a reason” can be considered overused or cliché, but for Reichelt it is both true and ironic. It was only after breaking his leg while skiing when he discovered a career in the field of athletic therapy might be intriguing. “When I took my physio, the therapist working on me was going back east to teach a course in athletic therapy, which back then, was the first one in Canada,” Reichelt said.
Growing up in Edmonton, Reichelt excelled in hockey and lacrosse, but never played football. When the dreams of an actual playing career ended, he saw the opportunity to work in athletic therapy as his ticket to remain in sports his whole life. During a summer between his years at University, Reichelt got his first true taste of the business when he volunteered to help out his hometown Eskimos.
“I just phoned them up and asked if I could come in and help tape guys and they said ‘yeah go ahead,’” Reichelt recalled.
As you would expect, the world of athletic therapy was quite different at that time. “It was a new profession almost,” Reichelt said. “The equipment managers in hockey or whatever were getting just ice bags for people who got hurt.”
Not too long after completing his studies, Reichelt was hired as head trainer for the WHA Oilers, a position you would think he would have been happy to have forever. Especially when you consider the success they enjoyed almost immediately after Wayne Gretzky and company joined the NHL. But football was his desired path and both the Eskimos and Lions head jobs opened up at the same time.
“BC, believe it or not, was my favourite team. Even though I was growing up in Edmonton,” Reichelt insisted. “I was always attracted to football because there was more players meaning more injuries to treat. I took the Lions job.”
Along with treating hundreds of players, Reichelt has seen it all and experienced it all since first migrating to the west coast. He has five Grey Cup rings, represented the club in eight championship games overall and was inducted into the Lions Wall of Fame in 2015 along with fellow long time staffer Kasuya.
Recihelt’s longevity means he has also been successful in adapting to the various changes in the athletic therapy industry since he first broke in four decades ago. Reichelt recalls how his early days involved reading lots of anatomy books and travelling to various offseason symposiums in order to keep up with the evolving world of athletic therapy.
“The job has changed tremendously” Reichelt said. “It’s gotten to the point now with Internet and Google, players are on top of it themselves. These young kids we have here now are really on top of it. Back in the day, you had to run out to a player’s car to give him an ice bag. Now they’re in here and you have to make it for them. It’s a case of ‘prehab’ over rehab.”
“The medical industry and the sports medical industry have come a long, long way in the last 40 years,” Buono said. “Billy has probably seen way too much and probably can’t share everything he’s seen, but I think like any individual that succeeds in life, he has to be able to adapt to the times. You can’t be stuck in one era or one frame of mind because when you do it leaves you and you miss the opportunities. Billy has adapted well not only to the athletes, but the fact you have to continue to upgrade yourself to be successful in this business.”