By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Denise Marshall calls athletic trainers the “unsung heroes.”
These professionals are an integral part of health care, yet they’re rarely in the spotlight.
“It’s important to highlight our profession every chance we get,” said Marshall, who serves as president of the Nebraska State Athletic Trainers’ Association (NSATA), an organization with more than 450 members.
A collaborative project between the University of Nebraska at Kearney and NSATA ensures this profession receives the recognition it deserves.
Dozens of people gathered Saturday at UNK’s Health and Sports Center for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication of the new NSATA Hall of Fame display located along the building’s main corridor. Hall of fame members and their families were also introduced during the home volleyball match against Missouri Western State.
“Having a home for the hall of fame has been a vision for the NSATA for many years. To see it come to life is absolutely incredible,” said Marshall, who works at Columbus Community Hospital and provides athletic training services for Central Community College-Columbus and several area high schools.
The NSATA Hall of Fame inducted its first members in 1997, but there was never a physical display honoring these individuals. Last year, UNK was selected to be the home of the hall of fame.
“UNK has been very supportive of the NSATA and the athletic training profession for many years,” Marshall said. “It just seemed like the right place to be.”
The new exhibit features plaques recognizing the 22 hall of fame inductees to date, including UNK graduates Danielle Kleber, Aaron Madsen, Charles Limbach, Douglas Long, Craig Holz and Kathy English, who also served as a faculty member and athletic trainer at the university.
“We’re proud of the long tradition of athletic training education at UNK. A lot of people across the state working in the profession are UNK graduates,” said Scott Unruh, a professor of athletic training, assistant dean in the UNK College of Education and NSATA member. “It’s exciting for us to be able to host the hall of fame and further promote this profession.”
Launched in the 1960s, UNK has one of the longest-running athletic training education programs in the state. The program became accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education in 2002, and was first offered as a major in 2007.
UNK currently offers a Master of Athletic Training graduate professional program, as well as an athletic training minor for undergraduates. Students can complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in just five years through a 3+2 structure or enroll in a traditional post-baccalaureate two-year graduate program.
The program prepares students for employment in athletic training positions with high schools, colleges and universities, professional sports teams, hospitals and clinics and more.
“The athletic training profession has grown over the years, expanding from universities and high schools to clinics, the military and industrial workplaces,” Marshall said. “The NSATA Hall of Fame members have guided us through gaining licensure and ever-evolving health care, and ultimately laid the groundwork for athletic trainers in the state of Nebraska to best serve their patients.”
The next NSATA Hall of Fame class will be inducted in June 2024.