Jan 29, 2015
Steve Hornor, University of Central Arkansas

Over the last three decades, Steve Hornor, MA, LAT, ATC, has worked at virtually every level of competitive sports. The day after graduating from the University of Oregon in 1977, Hornor became Head Athletic Trainer for the Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League. When the league folded four years later, he returned to the west coast as Head Athletic Trainer at Yuba (Calif.) Community College, where he remained for 15 years, also working part-time at a physical therapy clinic and volunteering some summers at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and National Sports Festivals.

Hornor relocated to Arkansas in 1996 and spent nine years as Head Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Medicine at Arkansas Tech University, an NCAA Division II school. In July 2005 he moved to the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), where he currently works as Assistant Athletic Trainer and an instructor in the school’s ATEP program. His duties at UCA also include helping the athletic department transition from NCAA Division II to Division I.

Hornor, who received his master’s degree from California State University-Chico, has been the Public Relations Chair of the Arkansas Athletic Trainers’ Association (AATA) since 1999. At this summer’s NATA convention, Hornor was named the NCAA Division II College/University Assistant Athletic Trainer of the Year. In this interview, he talks about his transition from head to assistant athletic trainer, the uses of publicity, and the importance of balancing work and family.

T&C: What was it like to win the NATA award?

Hornor: It’s very humbling to get that kind of recognition, and I take a lot of pride in it. I hope it’s based on merit, longevity, and as an affirmation of how hard I’ve worked over 29 years, when a lot of people my age and of my era have burned out. It certainly wasn’t based on good looks!

I look at this move to UCA as a career change. I’ve gone from being a head athletic trainer to an assistant and from doing a little bit of teaching at Tech to being an ATEP instructor in an accredited program. I want to give back to the profession through my work with students, and I hope that was part of the recognition.

What’s the common ground in working at the junior college level, Division I, Division II, international competition, and professional sports?

It’s a people profession, which is why I’ve remained an athletic trainer all these years. At every level, the athletes are still kids at heart. I’ve joked with my athletes no matter their age or status, and even when athletes are being paid to compete, it’s still a game. At every place I’ve worked, I’ve done my best to look out for the wellbeing of athletes and help them compete at the highest level they can.

When I started as an athletic trainer, it was a pretty new profession—my certification number is 164, which gives you an idea of how old I am. Back in the beginning, we didn’t always have the resources we have now, so we learned to make do. One thing I take pride in is my ability to use my hands. I don’t want to rely completely on modalities. Athletic trainers can get hung up using ultrasound, muscle stim, diathermia and all of those wonderful things. I can do a lot with just my hands and some ice.

At each level you move up to, there’s more pressure on coaches to win, and it gets increasingly difficult to develop the right rapport with them. As the athletic trainer, I’ve got to make certain my athletes can compete safely, even if that means holding them out of play. But having a good relationship with the coaches is essential for letting them know I’ve got their best interests in mind, too. There’s a lot of intensity at the Division II level, and as UCA moves into Division I in 2007, I’m sure the pressure will increase.

How do you deal with that pressure?

If there’s one word that describes the key to being a good athletic trainer, it’s “communication.” You have to communicate with athletic directors, coaches, student-athletes, parents, and other athletic trainers. So when I have to make tough decisions, I work hard to communicate my reasons effectively. I’ve found that communicating well with coaches makes a stressful situation much easier to handle. It’s critical to be able to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

In this profession, you also have to have fun. Athletic training is serious and important, but when we can also make it fun, life becomes a lot easier for our athletes and less stressful for everyone. I use humor in a lot of what I do—it’s just part of my makeup.

What are you doing to make the transition to Division I?

At the D-I level there are certain things athletic trainers are required to do that aren’t included in D-II, so there’s going to be some learning and re-evaluating of our program. We definitely have to prepare ourselves for higher stress situations and higher expectations, but fortunately for all of us, we’re not losing any of our coaches. All the coaches we’ve developed a rapport with will be moving together to D-I, most of them for the first time, so it will be a learning process for all of us.

What was your biggest challenge in going from head athletic trainer to assistant athletic trainer?

Fortunately, it hasn’t been a major transition because we’ve got two facilities here and I basically oversee one of them. But I’ve had to adapt to a different system and realize that I am not the final say anymore. I’ve got 29 years of professional experience, with 28 of them as a head athletic trainer. I think I have some good ideas about how things should be done, and at times it’s been difficult to back off and accept that there are other ways to do things.

How do you balance teaching and athletic training?

That has been a challenge. Here at UCA, we’re actually hired by the education department. So my primary responsibility is to make sure I am teaching my students, and that means a lot more than just spending an hour in the classroom with them. We’re supervising them in the athletic training room and always looking to provide them with opportunities to get hands-on experience.

One thing we take great pride in here is that our kids are going to be more than just booksmart. Their hands-on work is very extensive because we want to make sure we develop working athletic trainers. I’ve seen too many students from other programs who are terrified to evaluate an injury. We make sure to give them that opportunity, because there’s so much to athletic training you can’t find in a textbook.

What does it take to be a good mentor?

Knowledge—you need to have a sound foundation in athletic training. Humility—you’re not going to know everything, so you have to be relaxed enough to say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find out.” Patience—you have to allow a student to take 15-20 minutes for an evaluation you could have done in three. And caring—students need to know through your words and your actions that you really care about them as individuals. As their teacher, I may put them in a situation that’s really challenging and stressful for them, but when they leave here, they’re going to be grateful.

How did you get interested in public relations?

My interest evolved because I realized if we, as athletic trainers, don’t sell ourselves, nobody else will. We’re in a profession that tends to be in the background, and if we don’t toot our own horns, people aren’t going to find out about athletic training.

For the AATA, I maintain a tabletop display board, which has learning modules on “What Is A Certified Athletic Trainer?” and “The Importance of Certified Athletic Trainers in Secondary Schools.” If one of our members is going to speak to a group of people, they can use the board to make their presentation in a more professional manner. We’ve been trying to communicate with our membership about Athletic Trainer Recognition Month, and we’ve created information packets to encourage athletic directors to honor athletic trainers at their schools.

When I came to Arkansas, I got involved with the AATA because I think it’s very important to be active in professional associations. I have a real passion for athletic training, and I think we need to preach about acting professionally. Obviously, I’m biased, but athletic trainers are unique people with a lot to offer, and we need to get the word out about what we do.

What have you learned about balancing work and family?

It’s one of the most difficult things we do in this profession, and the biggest reason we have burnout. As important as athletics are, there are things that are even more important, like family. I try to put my family first, and they know that. But they also know there are going to be conflicts.

One big problem is that our schedules are controlled by other people. In 29 years I’ve never had a coach ask, “When do you want to work out this holiday weekend?” So I try to control what I can control and let the coaches know that I’m here for them, even if I can’t be available 24 hours a day.

My family understands I have a job to do, and I have to work part of every Sunday, which is really my day to spend with them. But instead of working three or four hours that day, I may work just one. I’ve missed things in my family’s lives, and I regret that, but they know I’m doing everything within my power to control the demands of the job.

How have you avoided burnout?

After 29 years, I still consider it a privilege to work with student-athletes. There have been moments when I was overwhelmed—I remember my second or third year at Arkansas Tech, when I realized I was burning out. I was very frustrated that my time was being controlled by other people, who determined when I arrived in the athletic training room and when I left. I was taking my frustration out on the athletes.

Then I realized, “You know, I’m in this profession for them.” So I went back to enjoying my athletes, even the ones I didn’t particularly like, and I think that was the key to getting back on track. I still want to make a difference in these student-athletes’ lives, which is why I’ve spent so much of my career working at the college level. I want to make a difference that goes beyond the athletic training room.

PROFILE: Steve Hornor

  • Assistant Athletic Trainer, Instructor; University of Central Arkansas
  • BS, University of Oregon, 1977
  • MA, California State University-Chico, 1995
  • Previous Positions:
  • Head Athletic Trainer, Washington Diplomats, 1977-81

    Athletic Trainer and Instructor, Yuba (Calif.) Community College, 1981-96

    Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Medicine, Arkansas Tech University, 1996-2005

  • Honors:
  • 2006 NATA Division II College/University Assistant Athletic Trainer of the Year

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