Head athletic trainer Scott Sunderland is a veteran in the athletics department. Sunderland has been with Knox for 27 years but a practicing trainer for many more.
For Sunderland, it all started back in his eighth grade year, the year before he was to attend Dunlap High School. His high school basketball coach, John Kimble, who was a family friend of the Sunderland’s, contacted Sunderland and asked if he’d be interested in helping the basketball team out once he was a freshman. The basketball team had an already-graduated trainer, but he was working on his college degree and took Sunderland in as his apprentice.
“This guy worked with me for awhile, so I actually started as a freshman in high school. That’s when I taped my first ankle and that kind of thing. That’s actually where it kind of started for me,” Sunderland said.
Sunderland helped the team for his four high school years and was planning on going to college for ornamental horticulture to be a golf course superintendent. However, Kimble was now at a junior college in Florida.
“I was then a senior and it was the only recruiting call I ever got, [Kimble] called me and said ‘Hey, I’m in need of an athletic trainer again, are you interested?’” Sunderland said.
That is when Sunderland decided athletic training was for him. Sunderland then got in to Illinois State University and this is where he continued his athletic training career. For his sophomore year at ISU, the first year he was assigned to a sports team, he was working with the cross country and indoor and outdoor track teams.
“Once you get assigned to a sport, it’s a year round thing … The cross country season ran pretty much into the indoor track season and that ran right into the outdoor season. Then, my junior year I was with football and baseball and my senior year I did just football,” Sunderland said.
Second semester of his senior year, Sunderland had an off-campus internship at Bradley University where he worked with the softball team. He also worked a little at Illinois Wesleyan University and did minimal high school work.
Sunderland managed to land a well-paid assistantship at a local high school while still attending ISU for graduate school.
“I managed to get a really good grad assistantship that paid well and was a very independent position at a high school. I didn’t have a whole lot of high school work at that point. My internship [at Bradley] was a combination of clinic and college, so I got real heavy clinical experience and I’d had a lot of college experience,” Sunderland said. “I knew I needed some high school experience. This was the best grad assistantship, paid the best, was independent. I stayed and I got that.”
The way Sunderland got to Knox was a bizarre stroke of luck. During one of his labs, the teacher brought in another scientist to help out. Sunderland then asked him if he had any jobs.
“I asked if there was any chance for any jobs out there. And he said he had just the job for me. He said he’d be right back. He left to make a phone call and it was to an orthopedic surgeon in Galesburg. He gets him on the phone, talks to him, comes back, gives me his card and said, ‘Call this guy, I think you’ve got a job if you want it,’” Sunderland said.
The surgeon, Dr. John Speca, was a part of Galesburg Orthopedics, now Cottage Orthopedics. Speca offered Sunderland a position to contract out to Knox as the athletic trainer.
“He was a partner in that practice and he wanted to hire me as a part of his practice and then contract me to Knox. His ultimate goal was that he wanted an athletic trainer at Knox. And so that’s how it happened. The first two and a half years, this was in the fall of 1991, I was contracted to Knox,” Sunderland said.
Sunderland would come every afternoon for practices and for weekend competitions and Saturday football games, home or away.
“And then after that, it was basketball and baseball and softball and a little bit of track and I did soccer and you move from sport to sport to sport. We quickly figured out that this [in the office] was the most of my job. This is where I was spending the greatest amount of my time. There was definitely a need for this to be more of a full-time basis,” Sunderland said.
Speca was then leaving the practice, which set the ball rolling for Knox to hire Sunderland full-time.
“[Speca] was leaving the practice and then it precipitated Knox bringing me on full-time. I am now in my 27th year of being the athletic trainer at Knox, I’ve been here a long time. Right out of college,” Sunderland said.
Sunderland explained that the greatest challenge of athletic training is the resources, whether supplies or actual people.
“So having the staffing you need to have to be able to cover the time and the volume that an athletic department can have. We’re fairly fortunate here that we’ve got two and a half positions. But in reality there’s appropriate medical care in intercollegiate athletics survey that says we need four and a half,” Sunderland said.
Sunderland says that our two and a half positions make our experience better than most Div. I schools have it, since it’s all relative.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge of being an athletic trainer, the sheer volume of work that you have and number of people and time and the staff that you have to do it,” Sunderland said. “Those two things just aren’t realistic. I don’t care where you are, everybody’s got that problem. If you’re in a higher division, you’re gonna have a larger staff or whatever, but there’s going to be a lot more expectations, a lot more athletes, a lot more travel, so it’s all relative.”
Sunderland loves what he does and is now entering his 28th year.