A True Pioneer

Bobby Barton has been a leader in athletic training for more than 30 years—and he’s still at it.

By David Hill

David Hill is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

Training & Conditioning, 12.8, November 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1208/pioneer.htm

Bobby Barton was present at the beginning. The Head Athletic Trainer at Eastern Kentucky University, Barton, DA, ATC, entered the field in the fall of 1970—the first year certification was offered by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. The profession has changed greatly since then, Barton says, but being in the inaugural class of national certification helped instill in him an appreciation for education. And that has led to everything else.

Barton would later join the NATA Board of Directors and serve as president from 1982-86. During his tenure, he helped establish the NATA Research and Education Foundation. Separately, he co-wrote Kentucky’s legislation on athletic trainer certification, only the nation’s third such law. He earned his doctorate, and today, though he remains an active athletic trainer, he is also a professor of physical education at EKU.

“He created a lot of respect for athletic training while president of the NATA, and he’s done the same at his university over the years,” says Joe Gieck, EdD, ATC, PT, Director of Sports Medicine and Professor in Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Virginia.

For his career-long dedication, his focus on education, and his role in furthering a positive image of athletic training, Barton is the winner of this issue’s Above the Call Award.

“I think my generation brought with it a lot of understanding of the practical aspects of the field, but also enthusiasm for education,” Barton says. “That was the key.”

Barton earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in 1968. Like the vast majority of athletic trainers of that era, he says, he studied in teacher-preparation programs, his disciplines being biological science and physical education. He earned a master’s degree from Marshall University in 1970, then went to the University of Florida, where he worked under Chris Patrick, MA, ATC/L, LMT, now Florida’s Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Health, and who then was on the original NATA Certification Committee.

According to Barton, athletic training education was quite different then. Most aspiring athletic trainers learned by working under the supervision of a veteran. But Barton was able to couple such hands-on instruction with undergraduate courses that contributed to his education. He even enrolled in an elective taught by Ernst Jokl, MD, at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. “At that time, I had no idea he was famous as a founder in the field of sports medicine,” Barton says.

Over the years, Barton has also seen the way athletic trainers’ job opportunities have evolved. In the early days, they typically followed a head football coach from job to job.

“Smokey Harper at the University of Kentucky followed Bear Bryant to Texas A&M, and then went on with him to Alabama,” Barton says. “But we started getting away from that in the 1970s. There was the potential for conflict of interest there, when you had your employment tied, at least to some extent, to won-lost records.”

Later, some athletic trainers began working with their respective campuses’ student health services. Then they started coming under the supervision of the athletic director—a positive change, Barton notes.

Barton arrived at Eastern Kentucky in 1976, a year after earning his doctorate in adapted physical education from Middle Tennessee State University. Along with counterparts at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, Barton wrote the Bluegrass State’s athletic training certification law. At that point, only Texas and Georgia had state certification or licensing.

Looking back, Barton says he was proud to be a part of the effort. “I think certification definitely raised our level of credibility with the medical community and other allied health professions,” Barton says. He admits, however, that the law hasn’t completely kept up with the changes in the field. Almost all athletic trainers then worked with intercollegiate athletic programs or professional teams. “The medical clinic athletic trainer idea hadn’t begun yet,” he says.

Barton’s role in the science of the field is also notable. His greatest legacy as NATA president is the NATA Research and Education Foundation, which was formed to raise funds and support research in athletic training. Before that, he says, “there was research being done, but a very small percentage of research was being done by athletic trainers who were on the field with athletes on a daily basis.”

Research led to major changes, for which Barton is gratified. Water breaks and hydration, for instance, weren’t even thought of early in his career until Foundation-sponsored studies proved their merits.

But Barton’s interest in the field and influence in its development hasn’t been limited to his term as president. His list of professional involvement is lengthy. He’s been a member of the NATA Placement Committee, Public Relations Committee, and the Research and Education Foundation Board of Directors. He served as NATA’s District IX Director and NATA Vice President before his term as president. He’s still Chair of the NATA Research and Education Foundation Nominating Committee, and was a member of the committee behind planning the NATA 50th anniversary celebration and convention, and has served in the Kentucky and Southeast professional organizations.

For his contributions, he’s received impressive recognition. The Southeast Athletic Trainers’ Association has even named a scholarship after him. The Bobby Barton Graduate Scholarship is the association’s first endowed support for graduate studies. He’s also been honored through the years by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and the All-American Football Foundation, and in 1996 was inducted into the NATA Hall of Fame.

Today, the profession faces important new challenges, though Barton says it’s well prepared to meet them. Among the most interesting to him are the emerging privacy laws that limit what can be said publicly about athletes’ injuries and readiness to play. Thanks in part to the privacy provisions of the new federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Barton says, “the days of reading in the newspaper the details of who’s injured and how serious their injury is are probably going to come to an end, unless they have a direct quote from the player.”

Barton also envisions an end to those who serve as both academic and everyday clinical athletic trainer. He splits his time evenly between teaching and clinical practice as a staff athletic trainer and expects that when he’s retired he’ll be replaced by someone who does one or the other.

“But I personally enjoy on-the-field athletic training, including two-a-day practices and long flights across the country,” he says. “But there aren’t many 56-year-old ATCs still doing that. I promised myself that when I reached 45, I would stay on the field only as long as I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it.”