Jan 29, 2015
Mike Pace, Spring (Texas) High School

It’s often said that you can’t go home again, but Mike Pace, LAT, ATC, did just that and has found the surroundings much better on his return. Pace is six years into his second stint as Athletic Trainer at Spring (Texas) High School, just outside Houston. His first time at Spring, from 1984 to 1988, he was the sole athletic trainer at the school. This time, he shares responsibility for the care of more than 1,000 athletes with two other athletic trainers.

During the intervening 11 years, Pace worked as an Athletic Trainer and Orthopedic Physician’s Assistant at Houston Northwest Ortho & Sports Medicine. There, he rehabbed patients and assisted in orthopedic surgeries.

A 25-year member of the NATA, Pace is also the Texas State Representative to the Southwest Athletic Trainers’ Association (SWATA) and a member of the Board of Directors of the Greater Houston Athletic Trainers Association. Pace was an athletic trainer for the United States baseball team during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and has worked at three U.S. Olympic Festivals as well as the 1991 Pan-Am Games. He recently received a Stephen F. Austin State University Distinguished Alumnus Award for his service to the athletic training profession.

In this interview, Pace talks about how his clinic experience has made him a better athletic trainer, working on a staff of three in which no one is the head athletic trainer, and giving back to the profession.

T&C: What led you down the career path of working at a high school, then going to a clinic before returning to the same high school?

Pace: In my first stint at Spring, I was working by myself and faced a growing number of sports programs to cover, which was difficult. In 1988, I was offered a job working alongside a local orthopedic surgeon and thought that would be an excellent opportunity. Then in 1999, he became incapacitated and I was on the job market. Spring High School happened to be looking to hire a third athletic trainer, and one of my associates remembered I was looking for a job and asked me to come back.

What did you learn at the clinic that has helped you in your current position?

The biggest thing I gained is a better understanding of anatomy by seeing it first hand. Assisting in surgeries provides a different perspective than what you get from a textbook. I also now better understand some of the clinical examinations, different conditions that arise, and lab test values.

How did the job of high school athletic trainer change in the 11 years you were at the clinic?

I think it’s changed radically, at least here at Spring. I was by myself before, and now we have three athletic trainers on campus, which is a big plus. It makes us much more efficient.

I used to work from 6:30 a.m. until 10 or 11 at night and have to get up the next day and do it again. Now, we work a rotating schedule. If I work until 9 at night then I don’t come in until noon the next day. That gives me an opportunity to have some family time and do things I need to get done. I’m not living in the athletic training room like I used to.

As someone who has worked closely with physicians in a clinic setting, what do you think athletic trainers can do to improve their relationships with their team physicians?

If they can, they should try to find a team physician they’re comfortable with and maybe even spend a week or two in the physician’s office working alongside him or her. The key is finding someone who will help you and not try to keep things a big secret. Once you have that kind of relationship with a physician, you can begin to tap into their knowledge.

How about dealing with other physicians?

In today’s environment, that’s sometimes difficult. A lot of physicians are hesitant to divulge information because of the HIPAA law. In our district, when an athlete goes to a doctor, he or she must return with a written statement from that physician explaining what the physician would like the athlete to do here. If they can do nothing, that’s fine. But if they have a sprained ankle, we’d like to know if they can still do an upper-body workout.

We call physicians to get clarifications if we need to—sometimes we get an answer and sometimes we don’t. Occasionally, I will ask one of my team physicians to call physician-to-physician, if we really need questions answered.

How do you develop a good rapport with coaches?

Sometimes, it simply takes time. You have to draw from your knowledge and experience and make good decisions. You also need to be flexible: “Maybe this kid can’t go full contact today, but he can go out there for drills.” Once a coach sees that you’re really not trying to hold everybody out for two weeks, you can develop that relationship.

It also requires constant communication. I go to my coaches every day after practice and give them an updated report on our players at all levels.

How do you work with parents?

As a parent myself, the last thing I want is for my son or daughter to sprain an ankle and I not know about it until they show up at home on crutches. So we make every attempt to call parents after any incident and let them know what’s happened to their child.

But we have to know exactly who to call at home because there can be parental rights issues if the parents are divorced or separated. You can’t just call home and talk to anyone. You have to be cognizant of who to call and who not to call.

I also feel it’s important to protect yourself from very aggressive parents. In today’s society, I advise every person in this profession to get their own personal malpractice insurance.

What’s the structure of the athletic training staff at Spring?

Our athletic director feels we’re all equally qualified and he doesn’t want to name a head athletic trainer because he feels that would step on some toes. So no one is the boss. We handle things through a democratic process. If it’s two votes to one, the two votes win. And that has worked really well.

We each have certain duties that we focus on. Mine are more administrative—I make sure all the kids are eligible to play and have completed all the proper paperwork. I’m the one who usually goes to meetings, and I handle the scheduling. One of my associates makes sure all the physicals are up to date, the other handles the equipment, and all three of us do the normal day-to-day athletic training work.

Does that structure ever present a problem?

Sometimes I’ll go home and say, “Gee, I didn’t get my way on that.” But the problems have been minimal because we get along so well. We all know that we’re here for one reason and that’s to do what’s best for the program and for the kids. Ultimately, that’s the thing that keeps us all going.

How do you divide the sports coverage?

We don’t actually divide it up into specific teams where you cover this team and I cover that team. We’re each responsible for what’s going on when we’re working. I look at the schedule a week in advance, and I keep in mind the different things each of us likes to do.

Do you have any student help?

We have a very good program with 17 students. They help us set up for practices and get our equipment ready for games. They assist with treatments and the office work we need to do. We’ve also started an accredited class in sports medicine that is taught by a teacher in the school who is a certified athletic trainer.

What was it like working at the Olympics in 1992?

As a young boy, I always wanted to go to the Olympics. But I was kind of a sickly child and was never big enough to participate in sports, which is part of the reason I got into athletic training. So going to the Olympics in Barcelona was the ultimate experience for me as an athletic trainer. It’s something I’ll never forget.

How did it differ from your other athletic training experiences?

You’re working with a higher caliber of athlete. I went with USA Baseball, and most of the players had signed professional contracts—guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Giambi. So you always had to have a physician backup and notify the major league team when you worked on them. Not that I treated them differently than I treat the kids here, but if your hands were tired from giving somebody a rub down, maybe you’d let them hurt a little bit longer.

Have you thought about trying to do it again?

Yes, I’ve applied again. Now that I have been there and know what to expect, I think I could guide some younger people through the whole experience the same way I was guided through.

What role do you think the professional associations, from the state associations to SWATA to the national association, play in the profession?

I believe they play a big role. Our biggest ongoing effort right now is to get government recognition that would allow us to bill Medicare and get third-party billing for athletic training services, whether it be in a doctor’s office, a healthcare clinic, sports-medicine clinic, or wherever. We are working to convince others that athletic trainers provide a very viable and cost-effective service to the public and that we can help keep healthcare costs down.

What can the typical athletic trainer do to help gain recognition for the profession?

They can become involved in their state organization, and they can get the word out about our profession. Don’t ever get tired of explaining to someone what you do for a living. Word of mouth is very powerful. And if you or one of your associates does something positive, let the local news media know about it.

How do you find the time to participate in association work?

It’s kind of a juggling act sometimes, but I’m in a great situation here with my two associates who understand my involvement. They know what it means to me, and for them, too, to be involved. I get back a lot of personal satisfaction knowing that I’m serving in a leadership capacity.

I spent some years in the trenches in the dark ages, and now it’s time to make it better for the younger athletic trainers who are coming up. I want to leave the profession better than it was for me, and I’ll work until my dying day to do that.

PROFILE: Mike Pace

  • Athletic Trainer, Spring (Texas) High School
  • Colleagues at Spring: Randy Dumas, LAT, ATC; Denise Chuick, LAT
  • Previous Jobs:
  • Athletic Trainer and Orthopedic PA-C, Houston NW Ortho and Sports Medicine, 1988-99

    Athletic Trainer, Spring (Texas) High School, 1984-88

    Athletic Trainer, MacArthur High School, Houston, 1978-84

  • Offices Held:
  • Texas State Representative to Southwest Athletic Trainers’ Association Board of Directors

    Board of Directors of Greater Houston Athletic Trainers Society

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