There is not a more respected athletic trainer — and quite likely a more respected athletic figure — in Mercer County than Trenton High’s Poppy Sanderson. So when the veteran of over 40 years in the profession speaks highly of a peer, it’s the ultimate compliment.
Poppy has just such praise for Tim “TC” Coyne, a Lawrence Township resident now in his 26th year as trainer at Hopewell Valley Central High School.
“I’ve known Tim well over two decades as a trainer and friend outside our profession,” Sanderson said. Tim’s knowledge of sports related injuries is what makes him a good trainer, and Tim’s personality makes him fun to work around while we’re doing our many hours working with student athletes.”
Sanderson began a working relationship with Coyne over 10 years ago when he brought him on to the training staff for the NBA Players Association’s Top 100 Basketball Camp. The trainers were charged with keeping potential NBA and Division I stars healthy, so they had to be good. Sanderson was confident that Coyne was up to the job, and he was.
Athletes at HVCHS have known that about Coyne since he came on board in 1991. As a Bulldogs basketball standout, Jeff Molinelli was worked on by Coyne as a teen.
“TC is the exact trainer any high school wants in their athletic department,” he continued. “First off he is very personable and extremely easy to get along with, which makes you feel very comfortable when receiving treatment. You can also tell right off the bat how knowledgeable he is. Anything that you hurt, he tells you exactly what muscle, tendon, or bone that is injured and has a ton of rehabilitation exercises you can do.”
Molinelli also noted that Coyne had a knack for making every athlete feel special, and that he would go out of his way to provide therapy whenever someone needed it. His admiration grew once he became HoVal’s boys’ basketball coach.
“It made me realize even more how valuable he is,” Molinelli said. “He is always there right when you need him. That’s tough for any athletic trainer as they are demanded in so many different areas, but he did a great job of making himself feel available. When players are injured you want them back as safely and as fast as possible. It was nice to know that this was being accomplished on a daily basis.”
The position is a lot of work and pressure and has gotten more pressurized over the years. Aside from anxious coaches, parents worry about their child and the athletes themselves are uncertain of their future after certain injuries.
It takes a special person to tend to it so well for so long. Coyne just feels it is what he was always meant to do.
“Some people join the priesthood, it’s just their calling,” said Coyne, a former altar boy. “I felt, as a young kid, that this was my calling – serving people. Just to do kind of selfless things. Even though this is a career and you get a salary, you want to help people succeed and do better. I think I’ve always liked helping people.”
Growing up in New Brunswick, Coyne had an early interest in sports. His father died when he was 5 and he lived in an area where numerous friends took wrong turns. Tim went the other way and as a fifth-grader at St. Peter’s elementary school he became the Rutgers batboy.
From there he helped behind the scenes with the Scarlet Knights’ basketball and football teams. Since the then-New Jersey Nets played their games at Rutgers at the time, Coyne became an NBA ballboy at age 14. When they moved to the Meadowlands, he was the only ballboy equipment manager Fritz Massman took with him.
“I don’t know if I’d be doing this now if it wasn’t for his mentorship as a kid,” Coyne said. “He kind of took me under his wing.”
Upon graduating from St. Peter’s High School, Coyne realized he wanted a job in sports and so he majored in athletic training at Kean College (now University). After graduating in December 1990, he became the trainer at New Brunswick High that winter.
‘TC IS SUCH A NICE, CARING PERSON. YOU CAN REALLY TELL HOW MUCH HE LOVES HOPEWELL ATHLETICS.’
He then applied for the Bridgewater job and, though he didn’t get it, Coyne impressed the athletic director enough that he recommended Tim to then-Hopewell AD Steve Timko. Coyne began in August 1991 and had to make the job his own after replacing Barb Frsicia, the school’s original trainer, who was there from 1984 to 1990.
Since then, he has become a positive symbol of HVCHS athletics throughout Mercer County.
“TC is such a nice, caring person,” Molinelli said. “You can really tell how much he loves Hopewell athletics. We still talk about when I used to be in high school and he remembers it like yesterday, just as he remembers athletes that were there before me. This is why players and coaches love and respect him.”
Like any young professional, Coyne had for a time hoped to move on. He applied for assistant trainers jobs with the Sixers, Knicks and Nets and while he got interviews, he did not land a position. But he feels Hopewell is a unique place “and not a bad landing spot in the high school spectrum of jobs.”
Coyne’s day starts with checking emails to get updates on injury statuses. He talks to parents about setting up doctors appointments, gets to school to do more paperwork and then checks injuries and starts rehab the last two periods of the day. Once school is over “all hell breaks loose” as players come in to prepare for games and practices.
Coyne is a fixture at home games and when they end, he waits for buses to return from road trips just to get any injury updates. When Hopewell reinstituted its football program over a decade ago, it stretched him even thinner, and he also handled Timberlane program. He got some help this year as newcomer Morgan Cozze is doing the middle school.
His abilities are so respected that he not only works with Sanderson tending to the top young hoop players in the nation, but he also helps facilitate trainers at various locations for NJSIAA tournaments.
Trainers must also stay up on all the sports medicine trends and Tim feels the growing knowledge of concussions is the biggest change in the profession since he started.
“Even though he has worked at Hopewell for so long, he knows the importance of staying as current possible,” Molinelli said.
And if Coyne never became a trainer?
“I’d actually want to be a sportswriter,” he said.
Thankfully for HVCHS athletes — and Coyne himself — he never had to go that route.