Jan 29, 2015
A Conversation with Jim Booher

By Kyle Garratt

When Jim Booher was hired as Head Athletic Trainer at South Dakota State University in 1967, he was the sole member of the athletic training staff and hydration was a perk rather than a necessity. After 42 years with the Jackrabbits, Booher, an NATA Hall-Of-Famer, retired earlier this summer. We recently caught up with Booher, who discusses his career and shares some of his favorite memories.
Despite 42 years at one post, Booher’s career was not without variety. He was the first full-time athletic trainer the school ever had and developed the athletic training curriculum at SDSU. He authored two athletic training textbooks and pushed for the involvement of women in the profession. In this interview, Booher talks about creating an academic program, changes he’s seen in the field, and his plans for retirement.

How did you get into athletic training?
Booher: I initially thought I would be the trainer for the Minnesota Twins or something like that. I got into athletic training because I was an athlete in college and then I went to physical therapy school, and when I got out of physical therapy school there were not very many opportunities. Physical therapists basically worked in the hospital or a nursing home. There weren’t all the orthopedic clinics and private rehab centers we have now, so I started looking for an athletic training job and this opportunity opened up at South Dakota State. It was my first and only job.

Did you have a frame of reference for how to do the job?
Being an athletic trainer was new to me, although I had gone through physical therapy training, so I had a pretty good background in rehab and treatment. One of my requirements as the athletic trainer was to teach the prevention and care of athletic training class at South Dakota State. The first year I taught it, I read the book the night before each lecture and learned as I went.

Why was it important to you to get women involved in the profession?
It just seemed natural to me that women should be involved. I happened to have a student in my prevention and care class who was very interested in becoming an athletic training student, so it kind of started there. She worked three years as a student for me and then went on to graduate school and became a certified athletic trainer. That was kind of the start of it.

How big of a challenge was it to start the athletic training academic program?
There were no guidelines or standards at that time, so it was pretty easy to start a program. We were just trying to figure out the best way to teach students who wanted to become athletic trainers. It was challenging in the beginning just to come up with what to teach. We knew we could teach treatment, rehab, assessment, and everything that goes along with that, but we didn’t know where to start or how deep to go right away.

Did you consider leaving SDSU at any time?
I never thought I would stay at South Dakota State my entire career. Early on, I had some thoughts of maybe moving, but those faded away over time. I am a native Nebraskan, so if I was going to move, it would have been with the Cornhuskers. For a while, I toyed with the idea of trying to get on if a job opened with the University of Nebraska, but that didn’t happen early on, and as each spring came, it became harder and harder to leave because I was advancing the program I had started. The further along my career went, the further it built my sense of ownership of the program.

What did you enjoy so much about SDSU?
Great people, good coaches, terrific students, midwest student-athletes who have a good work ethic and are just good people. They’re fun to be around and fun to work with. I enjoyed every minute of it.

How much do you stay in touch with former students?
I send a letter to all of our graduates each spring to give them an update with a return form they can send back telling us where they are and what they are doing. I know where all of our graduates went for their initial job and I hear from many of them every year. We made a real conscious effort to follow them through graduate school and their first job and to know what everyone is doing.

What does it feel like to see your students succeed?
I really look forward to it. We have an alumni meeting every year at the national convention so I see many of them at the NATA meetings. This year, we had about 65 alumni show up. It’s a lot of fun to meet up with those people, talk to them, and keep track of what’s going on.

Your son was an athletic trainer on the PGA tour–Did you encourage him to get into the profession?
No, we let all of our children decide what they wanted to do. He was a basketball player and was recruited by SDSU and when he took his visit we thought he was going to be an engineer. They spent a day showing him around the engineering department and at the end he looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I want to do what you’re doing.’

Why did you decide to write two athletic training textbooks?
I was standing on the football practice field one fall and the anatomy instructor, who authored the number-one anatomy college text in the country at that time, walked up to me and suggested, “I’ll do the anatomy, you do the injuries and assessment, and let’s write a book.” Being young and not knowing much different I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” We spent four and a half years on the first textbook back in the early 80s.

Did you enjoy writing the books?
Very much so. It’s a good experience. That first textbook was 19 chapters and I felt like I was writing 19 theses. You have to do a lot of research and hope you are really up on treatment trends and know what is going on.

What are some of your favorite memories?
Most of my favorite memories come from the athletic fields where we had some great, great victories and disappointing defeats. You remember all the good stuff. The other would be getting to know all of the students who went through our program who are successful today.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in the profession?
On the academic side, it would be the body of knowledge and the guidelines and standards we have to meet. On the athletic side, it would be almost everything from the introduction of cold treatment to hydration education. The injuries we see today are not the same injuries we saw back in the old days. Today, we see so many overuse issues because today’s athletes play year-round, work out all the time, and more and more, they are one-sport athletes. We never saw any overuse injuries in the old days and we had very few surgeries. Surgery was a big deal. Today, athletes get surgeries all the time.

Is specialization good or bad?
It’s a sign of the times. We used to have athletes here who participated in three sports. Very few athletes would be able to do that today with the training, conditioning, and everything else that goes into a being on a team. I enjoyed multiple-sport athletes and I did that myself way back when. It’s both good and bad. It’s too bad athletes have to lock into one sport once they get to college, but they do become so much better at it.

What are the best changes you’ve seen in athletic training?
The best changes have resulted from scientific research. Take hydration, for example. Coaches didn’t believe in giving athletes fluids way back when. And today, of course, everyone does because research has shown the benefits of staying hydrated. There are a lot of those kinds of things that have occurred over the years that certainly have been for the better.

Would you do anything different looking back?
Probably not. I have thoroughly enjoyed my career. I had a great ride and I have often told people that I had one of the best jobs in the state. I got to work with patients who were all 18 to 24 years of age and were highly motivated. They had good work ethic and were good people. I would do it all over again.

What are some of the big issues facing the athletic training profession?
Just getting athletes access to athletic trainers. We have constantly battled to get high schools to hire athletic trainers. Athletic training has only been around since 1950, so we are young as an allied health profession and not a lot of people know the purpose of having an athletic trainer. It’s a constant battle at the national level to be recognized for what we do. We have some other allied health professions that think they can do those things, so that’s a battle that will continue.

How did you strike a healthy work-life balance?
In my early years, I probably didn’t do a very good job of it because I was so busy and had little to no staff. My children suffered when I was a young athletic trainer because I wasn’t around as much as I would have liked to be. Today, we have more athletic trainers, staff, and students, so it’s easier to spend more time with family.

What plans do you have for retirement?
I don’t have any definite plans. My wife and I will travel more and we will keep up with our kids and our grandchildren. I have only been retired for a month and it has been really busy so far. I had a few tasks to finish up and I’m playing more golf than I used to. I am looking forward to it calming down a little.

What advice do you have for today’s athletic trainers?
They need to make sure this is the profession they want to get into. Young men and women who participated in athletics in high school think it’s what they want to do, but they don’t know what kind of an education they must have and the time that’s involved with being an athletic trainer. If this is really what you want to do, it’s a great profession. This is not an eight to five job. It’s weekends, nights, and it takes a lot of time.

What did you think when Ben Heinze, SDSU Head Athletic Trainer for Football, called you one of the 10 most recognizable people in athletic training?
Obviously I feel very good about that. I’m not sure it’s true, but it makes you feel good when someone thinks that highly of you. That’s just longevity. I’m recognizable because I have been around so long.

Kyle Garratt is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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