Athletic trainers often work in the background, but are a major factor in the success for any athletic program.
Laurel Highlands grad and longtime trainer Ron Stefancin was recently recognized for his years of service when he was inducted into the Virginia Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame.
Stefancin, who graduated from Laurel Highlands High School in 1971, started on his path in athletic training when he was still in high school.
“Dad being a coach, he would always go to clinics and workshops,” recalled Stefancin. “My brother Pete got involved with athletic training a little bit, years ago. Dad had gotten from the Cramer Corporation a home study course. That was laying around the house and I looked through it, and thought it was interesting.
“I played football and in my junior year I got knocked out pretty good and had a third degree concussion. I couldn’t do a whole lot of anything. I had started wrestling for two years and the doctor said you are not doing anything, no football, no wrestling. That’s when I became a manager for the LH basketball team. My brother Pat was playing basketball. I kind of took an interest in athletic training into that. Tried to play football again my senior year and it didn’t work out. I stuck with being a manager and tried to learn about athletic training. I also helped out with the football team.”
Stefancin attended West Virginia University after graduating from Laurel Highlands.
“My second semester there — in the spring — I wanted to stay involved with athletic training and I kept showing up in the training room, wanting to become involved,” said Stefancin. “Trainer Phil Callicutt said if you’re going to be here you might as well help out. Callicutt left and Craig Llewellyn came in as the trainer for football. I worked with him for my last two years at West Virginia. Back then we didn’t have curriculum programs. I came through what was known as an apprenticeship. I took a basic athletic training class and then I worked 1,500 hours for a certified athletic trainer and that qualified me to take a test after my graduation.”
Stefancin soon received an opportunity at James Madison University.
“We had a graduate assistant at WVU, Robbie Lester. I had worked with him for two years,” offered Stefancin. “He graduated and got his masters, and took a job at James Madison. I followed Lester in the fall of 1976. The summer of 1977 Lester took a job with the North Carolina Department of Education. At that time I was a graduate assistant at James Madison. Lester told me he had recommended me to the JMU Athletic Director Dean Ehlers. He offered me the head athletic trainer’s job. I accepted the position. He said he wanted me to finish my Master’s degree because back then everybody taught. I got my Master’s at James Madison.
“Sometimes it’s good to be in the right place at the right time. I had an opportunity and it blossomed. We were at the Division III level and athletics and education went hand-in-hand. I taught and was the athletic trainer. In 1977-78, we changed from Madison College to James Madison University and they wanted an athletic training curriculum. We became the first undergraduate curriculum program in Virginia.”
When Stefancin first started JMU was Division III program, but the university transitioned to Division I in 1979-80. JMU has 28 sports, and Stefancin’s primary responsibility was football, basketball and baseball.
“In the 1980s we had NCAA tournament appearances in basketball,” added Stefancin
Stefancin served as the Head Athletic Trainer at James Madison University from 1977-2003. He is now retired.
“I didn’t think I would stay in one place that long,” Stefancin explained. “It was a good place to work, we had a good administration. We had good staff and good students.”
Stefancin was inducted into the Virginia Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame in early January 2020.
“It’s the culmination of the efforts and my guidance,” Stefancin said. “There were a lot of people involved. It was a proud moment for me.”
Stefancin, 67, resides in Harrisonburg, Va., with his wife Lisa. They were married in 1979 and have two daughters: Amanda (JMU 2000) and Allison (Bridgewater College 2004). He is still working part time for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) as a Residency Health and Safety Coordinator and Land Use Permit and Subdivision Specialist.
“I’m happy with the way things are and life has been good,” Stefancin stated.