Whitman Names New Head Athletic Trainer

News Release Date:
Saturday, August 7, 2010

WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- John Eckel, formerly the head athletic trainer at New York University (NYU) for 22 years, has been named to the same position at Whitman College.

      John Eckel

Eckel, 50, who was hired after a nationwide search, replaces Brooke Kennedy, who held the position on an interim basis for the past year.

"I am very pleased that John has chosen to join our team," Whitman athletics director Dean Snider says. "His tremendous experience and proven leadership ability will be an outstanding asset to our program."

Eckel, a native of the Buffalo, N.Y., area, earned his bachelor's degree (physical education with athletic training concentration) at Buffalo's Canisius College and his master's degree (ergonomics and biomechanics) at NYU. 

After working at NYU for two-plus decades, Eckel and spouse Marcia moved in July 2006 to Hawaii, where he worked as the athletic health care trainer at two high schools, one of which his wife had attended as a youth.

"My wife is from Hawaii and her mother still lives there," Eckel says. "When our daughter was born (November, 2005), we wanted her to spend her early years getting to know her only living grandparent. The move to Hawaii was basically a family decision, and it worked out well."

Now that daughter Kaela is nearing school age, the chance to return to the collegiate ranks at Whitman was too good to pass up, Eckel says.

"I was excited as soon as I saw the Whitman position advertised," he says. "I knew that Whitman is a very good academic school, and I knew its athletic conference, the Northwest Conference, is well respected around the country.

"I like college athletics, especially Division III, and I wanted to get back into the college setting. I'm thrilled to be here and looking forward to working with a bunch of great students athletes and coaches."

Eckel heads a training staff that includes assistant athletic trainer Nathan Fry and a group of eight to 12 student aides. About 20 percent of the students at Whitman compete on one of 14 intercollegiate sport teams.

While at NYU, Eckel supervised four assistant athletic trainers (two full-time) and 10 student aides and provided medical coverage for 900 students in 40 NCAA Division III and club sports. The largest private university in the U.S., NYU is based in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and has 13 colleges with a total enrollment of 51,000 students.

Whitman, which also competes in NCAA Division III athletics but has a much smaller enrollment (about 1,500), can be proud of is athletic training facilities, Eckel says. 

"The athletic training facilities here are top notch," Eckel says. "These are the best facilities I've ever worked in. For a Division III school setting, the athletic training facilities are amazing."

Whitman's primary athletic training facilities are located in Sherwood Center, which recently underwent a $15.5-million renovation. Located across the street is the Baker Ferguson Fitness Center, which includes the Louise and Paul Harvey Pool and was constructed in 2006 at a cost of $10 million.

This summer Eckel is making the rounds of coaching offices to see how he can help. "If I can help coaches develop conditioning and injury prevention programs for their teams, I'd be happy to do that."

Once student-athletes return to campus in late August, Eckel and his staff will split time between injury prevention and care.

"The hope, always, is to do more injury prevention than injury care," he says. "The goal is to keep student athletes healthy so they can participate and compete as much as possible. We start by screening for any pre-existing conditions that we can address immediately before they become limiting factors."

Not all injuries, obviously, are preventable, Eckel says.

"What we do primarily is provide emergency first aid. We do an immediate evaluation to determine if the student athlete can continue or if the need to spend some time on the sidelines. If the problem requires further attention, we refer them to a physician."

Eckel grew up east of Buffalo in Cheektowaga, N.Y., where he played football and competed in track & field in high school. 

He enrolled at Canisius with the goal of being a football coach. After four years of working as a student aide in the Canisius athletic training department, he had shifted from coaching to athletic training as a career path.

Eckel completed his certification as an athletic trainer (National Athletic Trainers Association) in April of 1984 and started work as NYU's head athletic trainer later that summer. By that time, he had finished course work for a master's degree in athletic training at the University of North Carolina, but his thesis work was left undone due to the demands of his new job at NYU.

Taking one or two courses each year allowed Eckel to finish his master's degree at NYU in 1997.

Eckel enjoys biking and takes pride in having finished the "Assault on Mt. Mitchell" 13 times during his days as a younger rider. That 102-mile biking event starts in Spartanburg, S.C., and ends at the top of North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell, which at 6,575 feet is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

"My wife Marcia is really the most active member of the family," he says. "She taught aerobics classes while in graduate school at NYU, and she loves to run and swim."

- 30 - 

CONTACT: Dave Holden,
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
holden@whitman.edu; (509) 527-5902