Article reposted from Chicago Tribune
Author: Pat Disabato
Joe Cunnane grew up in Mount Greenwood. He loved to play sports, but he also realized those days wouldn’t last beyond high school.
It led Cunnane to make a career decision that would forever link him to athletics.
“This was a way to stay involved with it much longer than my playing career would get me,” Cunnane said of athletic training. “It was a good decision.”
No, it was a great decision. He might have been an average athlete, but he’s no average Joe when it comes to sports medicine.
Training & Conditioning Magazine recently named Cunnane, the head athletic trainer at Lockport for 23 years, the nation’s most valuable athletic trainer.
He’ll be honored in June at the National Athletic Trainers Association Convention in Houston.
“We were swamped with deserving nominees, but Joe’s nomination really caught our attention,” Training & Conditioning managing editor Mary Kate Murphy said. “We always look for high school athletic trainers who go above and beyond in service of their athletes, and Joe definitely met the criteria.
“Joe’s devotion to the health and well-being of his athletes was clear.”
Cunnane, 48, has attended the convention on numerous occasions. It’s a way to keep tabs on updated news in sports medicine.
This year, however, is going to be a little more special.
“It’s pretty humbling,” Cunnane said. “It’s not something you ever think about. These kinds of things are not the norm for trainers. We’re more comfortable behind the scenes.”
Lockport athletic director Jim Prunty nominated Cunnane, a 1987 Andrew graduate, for the award. Prunty has admired Cunnane’s commitment not only to the high school, but to the entire Lockport community.
“Joe does a phenomenal job for our athletic community at Lockport,” Prunty said. “Not just our student-athletes. He makes himself available for people in Lockport if they suffer an injury. He goes above and beyond.”
The life of a high school athletic trainer is demanding. Cunnane’s day begins at 7 a.m., and with Friday night football games, it doesn’t end until around 10 p.m.
Most teams compete on Saturdays, which requires him to be back at the school.
Cunnane tries to avoid going to school on Sundays, but he’s learned that’s usually a good time to get caught up on paperwork.
“The hours are long but I’m fortunate to have three other trainers to assist me,” Cunnane said. “We have 14 or 15 different sports going on in the spring alone. There is a need for four trainers at Lockport.
“We make sure we do as good of a job as we can to take care of all the athletes.”
There are more than 2,000 student-athletes at Lockport. As much as Cunnane and his staff try to educate student-athletes on ways to prevent physical injuries, it’s impossible to avoid the injury bug.
Cunnane confirmed one of the toughest parts of his job is calling up a parent of an injured athlete.
“Unfortunately, we’re not calling parents to say, ‘Hi,'” Cunnane said. “There are times when the parent will see our phone number and answer by saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ We tell the parent that he or she is going to be OK.
“Our athletes work hard and we want to get them back out there competing.”
Besides his responsibilities as the school’s trainer, Cunnane also teaches two sports medicine classes and three power-lifting classes at Lockport.
He considers himself fortunate.
“Lockport has always been a great place,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of athletic directors to work with. All of them have been accommodating to the program. It’s been special.”