After careers at Division I level, former student athletic trainers return to their roots
Standing (from left): Dr. Daniel Switchenko, Dr. Jeff Konin and Dr. David Yeo. Sitting (from left): Tom Holton and Julie Alexander.
By Brendan Driscoll/Sports Information Staff
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - Two fulltime summer hires have made for an interesting -- and unique -- situation in the Eastern Connecticut State University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Tom Holton, Eastern Class of 1989, has served on the Eastern athletic training staff since 1999. This past summer he was joined by two fellow alumni: Dr. Jeff Konin '88, and Julie (Glode) Alexander '90,who returned to their alma mater after successful careers at the Division I level. Konin was named director of athletics while Alexander was named to the athletic training staff following the retirement of Dr. David Yeo, Eastern's long-time popular head athletic trainer.
While undergraduates at Eastern, all three former students - Holton, Konin and Alexander - learned under Yeo and Dr. Daniel Switchenko, who served as teachers and mentors to the trio.
Yeo retired this past spring after more than 25 years as head athletic trainer and professor of Health and Physical Education but remains in a faculty emeritus role. A full professor of Health and Physical Education, Switchenko has been a member of the faculty since 1981, when he was hired in a dual role as professor and head men's basketball coach. As the basketball program's winningest head coach during his 13-year career, Switchenko led the Warriors to five post-season tournaments, including a spot in the NCAA Division III Elite Eight in 1993. He was inducted into the University's athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
Holton, Konin and Alexander all went through Switchenko's challenging Applied Anatomy and Physiology, Physiological Basis/Movement, and Physiology of Exercise classes and also studied athletic training and served as student athletic trainers under Yeo.
Today, a 12x15 inch plaque occupies a special place in Eastern's athletic training room. The plaque is entitled the Jeffrey Konin Athletic Training Award in honor of Konin, who became the first individual to earn an athletic training accreditation through advanced education beyond his undergraduate degree from Eastern. The names of Holton and Alexander occupy distinguished spots on that award for meeting that critera.
Both Yeo and Switchenko are extremely proud of the educational and professional achievements of their former students, and both are both thrilled to have them back at their alma mater. The bond joining Holton, Alexander, Konin, Switchenko and Yeo is, undoubtedly, a unique and rewarding one for all parties involved.
According to Yeo "I don't know any other college where the director of athletics and two athletic trainers all studied under one person," referencing Holton, Konin and Alexander.. Eastern does not, and never has, offered an undergraduate degree in athletic training, so it was the dedication of Yeo and Switchenko who helped the trio gain admittance to graduate school. Yeo demonstrated the three things a trainer needed to have to be successful: passion, endless dedication, and the desire to set high goals. He gave them the opportunity to be with the teams for practice and games. They were all required to work hard while they were at Eastern, because Yeo was the only fulltime trainer at the time. Yeo also added that that he is very proud that they choose to be here in the first place and happy that they eventually chose to return. Since he has recently retired as a full time faculty member, Yeo feels that he has left the department incredibly strong for the future.
A native of Willimantic, Switchenko points out that "for three former students to achieve that level of success is so rewarding." All three of alumni went through all of Switchenko's classes while they were undergraduates. Switchenko specifically remembered all three of them as students and how they had performed in his class. He is not surprised by the amount of success his three former students have achieved and is very proud that he was once their professor. "The ultimate goal is to prepare students to become (better) than you."
Konin officially took over as director of athletics this past July 2. Konin is a native of Hamden and received his undergraduate degree in 1988. Upon completion of his undergraduate studies, he received his Master's Degree in Education from the University of Virginia a year later, a Master's Degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Delaware in 1994, and a PhD. from Nova Southeastern University in 2004. Prior to accepting his current appointment, Konin served as vice chairperson of the Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and executive director of the Sports Medicine and Athletic Related Trauma Institute at the University of South Florida.
Firmly entrenched at South Florida, Konin ultimately accepted Eastern President Dr. Elsa Nunez's offer to return because of the great environment the campus offers. He also saw the position as a tremendous accolade, because it meant a lot that Eastern wanted him to return to his alma mater.
While Konin was a student at Eastern, he was the student athletic trainer for the men's basketball team during Switchenko's coaching tenure. Konin served in that capacity for two seasons, and in Switchenko's eyes, was a member of the team and was fully committed to the program.
Yeo came to Eastern in 1986 when Konin was working with the basketball team. As Eastern did not offer a major in athletic training, Yeo afforded Konin an opportunity to gain experience by working both in practice and during games. Yeo quickly realized what Konin had done for the basketball program, and allowed him to continue being the trainer.
Konin remembers his time at Eastern and is appreciative of the impact these two men have had on his professional growth. Konin described Yeo as "one of a kind." Konin said that Yeo was "a great person and great teacher", and following Yeo's example, "learned how to treat people right." When Konin reflected on his time in Switchenko's classes, he believes that "the world would be a better place if more classes were like that." Konin felt that Switchenko's classes held students accountable and were among the very few classes where students walk away with knowledge and understanding that remains with them decades later.
As director of athletics, Konin hopes to continue the environment that has been created by Switchenko and Yeo. He believes that the athletic administration has a great opportunity to show leadership for the entire campus. Konin also feels that student-athletes should have three major roles in their college careers that enhance a great experience: their experience in their respective sport, education, and their role in the community.
A native of nearby Storrs, Alexander returned to Eastern after 17 years on the athletic training staff at Sacred Heart University. Alexander graduated from Eastern in 1990 after playing three seasons of volleyball under Eastern Hall of Fame coach Floretta Crabtree. After receiving her undergraduate degree in psychology, Alexander earned her Master's Degree in athletic training from Old Dominion University. Comfortable at Sacred Heart after nearly two decades at the Division I institution, Alexander says that she was not actively looking for employment elsewhere, but had always told herself that if the opportunity to return to her alma mater presented itself, that she would pursue it.
Alexander did not initially join the volleyball program at Eastern as a freshman, but was recruited off the tennis court by Crabtree. Alexander says that she was not an overly gifted athlete, but through hard work in practice became a starter in her junior and senior years. Switchenko described Alexander as an 'outstanding' student. "She was very focused and serious - she was all business in the classroom," remembers Switchenko. As a volleyball player, Switchenko pointed out that Alexander was a "tremendous team player and became highly skilled, due to her commitment to the team."
Alexander admits that both Yeo and Switchenko had a huge impact on her ambitions and professional career. "'Passionate' is the one word that describes both of them," she says, adding that she has never seen either of them "in a bad mood." According to Alexander, Yeo's teachings in the area of athletic training still resonate with her. Her experience in Switchenko's classes proved that she was hard worker and wanted to meet the challenge. Spurred on by a desire to meet Switchenko's expectations, Alexander received two A's and a B in his three classes.
Holton has been at Eastern since 1999. The Willimantic native received his undergraduate degree in 1989 and his graduate degree in sports medicine at the United States Sports Academy two years later. Holton's professional experienced include involvement in professional baseball at the minor league level and also at the amateur level with USA Skating and USA Baseball. He says that he wanted to return to Eastern to train athletes at the Division III level and to give back to the university that gave him so much. He felt that the Division III athletes he now trains that wanted to play and compete compare to many of the athletes at the Division I level and in the minor leagues.
Switchenko described Holton as a hard-working student and is proud of the way that he has developed into a successful athletic trainer. Yeo explained that Holton could be working in a bigger place - similar to the environment in professional baseball and with the Olympics - but that it is a testament to Holton's makeup to decide to return and remain at his alma mater.
Holton says that he is very appreciative of everything that he learned while an undergraduate here. As an undergraduate intern, he remembers that Yeo instilled in him the drive to improve and the desire to always learn more. Through Yeo, he says that he was able to mold himself and he became a better person. Holton also described Switchenko as one of the top professors he has ever had. "Everything that he taught made sense, and would become burned into your memory." Like Alexander, Holton also felt the classes were so beneficial because of Switchenko's demand for accountability.
Since Holton, Konin and Alexander all graduated within three years of each other, they were familiar with one another while undergraduates. Konin and Alexander knew Holton and had experience working with him at Eastern. However, Konin and Alexander were not as familiar with each other, due to the two-year difference. However, according to Alexander, they had all maintained contact throughout their professional careers prior to being "re-united" many years later.
With the three alumni holding major roles in the department of athletics, Eastern hopes to build upon the positive environment that has been created by individuals like Yeo and Switchenko. It is clear how much of an impact Yeo and Switchenko have had on the three alumni, and how much the two professors have meant to their professional careers.
Without the impact of the two mentors, Holton, Konin and Alexander may not have opted to return to Eastern. However, they all chose to return, in part, because of what Eastern Connecticut State University meant to them while they were impressionable undergraduates.