The Athletic Training Education Program (ATEP) at Sterling College is not even ten years old, but it already has a reputation, a good one. The walls of the program’s main teaching classroom are lined with pennants from—Ohio University, Oklahoma University, Eastern New Mexico State and more—each represents one of the 16 (out of 21 total) SC Athletic Training graduates who is attending or has attended a graduate program at that school. How has Sterling’s ATEP accomplished this? Through cutthroat competition among the ATEP students? Absolutely not, says Program Director Pete Manely. “We use the word ‘family’ a lot. We are preparing students for a career that is all about serving others. I don’t know any other way to do that than to model it for them, to tell them we’ll be there for each other and then actually do it.” This family approach begins even before a student enters the program. When Manely talks with prospective students, he tells them they can expect to work really hard—as a team. It works. This year the Athletic Training Program was ten students over its recruiting goal. Cindy Lee, the mother of firstyear student Taylor Lee of Norco, Calif., said this about Manely’s meeting with her son: “I was so impressed that Pete Manely took so much time to get to know Taylor and find out what kind of person he is. There was real counseling going on. Pete was so positive that I could sense Taylor felt more relaxed and connected almost immediately.” The connection continues when students enter the program. “We always ‘eat good,’” says Manely. “We have a lot of gettogethers: cookouts, a Thanksgiving meal, a Christmas party, an end-of-the-year banquet—I believe in banquets. We celebrate our accomplishments.” 

Five years ago there were six people at the end-of-the year banquet; this past year there were 62! The gathering included current students and their family members, alumni with their families, even families of the staff members. But it’s not all about the fun times. “Our promise to be there for each other means most when times are tough,” says Manely. “Last year was a rough year. We had three students whose parents went through life-threatening situations. My mom was diagnosed with cancer, and Erin’s (Laudermilk, an assistant professor) grandfather passed away. We didn’t hide these from each other. We shared our struggles. Every professor and trainer in our program has an open-door policy. When we say we’ll pray for a student, we do it.” The students agree. “All our professors are easy to talk to,” says sophomore Dani Burk. “They work together as a team and they like each other. That makes us want to be around them. We hang out in the training room, even when we’re not working.” Jason Coles is an ’09 alumnus who earned his graduate degree at Ohio University and then returned to SC as an assistant athletic trainer. “I came back because of the family atmosphere,” he says. “We’ve made conscious efforts to hold onto that even as we’ve grown. It’s a special thing to be a part of the ATEP program.” The camaraderie is clearly working, and Manely has a theory about that. “I believe that the main reason we’ve been able to create and hold onto a family atmosphere is because our common purpose is to serve. We are one of those rare programs in which students get to serve in their field while they are on campus. We serve our athletes, and we extend family support to them. We pray with them and over them. When they go through surgeries, we go with them to the hospital. We care about the success of the teams we serve. I think that creates a special bond among us. “We want to ‘Walk the walk.’ That’s our theme this year. We’ve been looking at verses that use the word ‘walk’ and seeing how they apply to what we do. We’ve been talking about how to use athletic training on a mission trip. Jason Coles wants to lead a team. We always want to be growing.” That growth is producing athletic trainers who are fully prepared for a future in their field. Justin Martens is a 2010 grad who is now at Southeastern Louisiana University as a graduate assistant. He recently said, “I feel absolutely prepared for my grad work. Actually, the biggest shock to me has been to find that the level of professionalism that was expected at SC was so great. It’s not that it isn’t present in my grad program, but you would expect it to be higher at a big university, as if it wouldn’t be as strong at Sterling because of the size of the college and the family atmosphere of the ATEP program. That, however, is absolutely not true. I’ve discovered that the professionalism expected of us and the high standards we had for each other were top notch. “I think that’s because we saw each other as members of a family. We were expected to assist each other and give the highest possible level of care because we all, trainers and athletes, belonged to the same family.” Far more than the awards won and degrees earned, it is this servant attitude that will enable Sterling College’s ATEP graduates to “walk the walk” in athletic programs all across the country.