Swipe to the right

John “Doc” Baxter: Friend, Legend, and Athletic Trainer Extraordinaire

December 12, 2016

Dec 12, 2016 11:01:15 PM

The profession of athletic training lost an icon on October 3, 2016, with the passing of John “Doc” Baxter, ATC, at the age of 77. Doc was an instructor and the head athletic trainer at Emporia State University from 1966 – 2012. Throughout his career, Doc touched the lives of countless athletic trainers, student athletes, and coaches. He was a true friend and will be missed by all of us at Cramer, as well as by athletic trainers throughout the country. We asked a few athletic trainers who knew Doc well to share some memories of this remarkable man.

Steve Ice, ATC, head athletic trainer at Washburn University, first met Doc during the summer of 1973, after graduating from high school. Steve attended the student camp that Doc ran. “He could really be ornery,” Steve says. “The camp had an ultrasound machine, and Doc put a bunch of water on the ultrasound head, which made it shoot bubbles and look like it was scalding hot, but it wasn’t. I didn’t know that, though! Doc looked around the room for the kid with the most wide-eyed look to take that ultrasound head from him. I ducked out of the room because I didn’t want him to call on me! Years later, after I was working as an athletic trainer, I met up with him again. I asked him about the ultrasound stunt, and he laughed and said he did that every year. He thought it was great fun.”

Doc was known for giving excellent advice. “When I took the position at Washburn,” Steve says, “I was busy and somewhat overwhelmed. Doc used to tell me not to let this profession ruin your life. He told me it had cost him a marriage, and you have to separate yourself from it or you’ll either leave the profession or have problems with your personal relationships. It was really good advice and a life lesson for me. Because of that, I learned when to step away from the job.”

Of course, Doc was best known for his brilliance as an athletic trainer. He was always happy to help anyone. “Every time I had a challenging problem with an athlete, Doc would talk with me,” Steve explains. “I had a kid with a broken foot, and Doc showed me how to model an orthotic that would allow him to get back on the court sooner. Washburn was Emporia State’s biggest competitor, as far as school-to-school, yet he didn’t hesitate to help my student.”

Gary Hazelrigg, ATC, is retired and lives in St. Joseph, Mo. For many years, Gary was the head athletic trainer for Missouri Western State University—a school that was in the same conference as Emporia State. “Although our schools were rivals, Doc and I took care of each other’s athletes while on the road,” he says. “Doc was so dedicated to Emporia. He was a hard-working man, very hands-on, and dedicated to student-athletes at Emporia. If someone was injured, Doc could always get them better. He really could. Another good thing about him was that if he came across something that wasn’t working very well, he’d be the first one to get on the phone and call another athletic trainer, describe the situation, and ask for help. And if I had a problem getting an athlete back to playing and a method of treatment wasn’t working, I’d call Doc and get his ideas. He would help anyone, and was always happy to help.”

Gary also has wonderful memories of the 26 years he and Doc were the head athletic trainers for the NAIA men’s basketball tournament in Kansas City. Gary explains: “Jack Cramer asked Doc and me if we’d represent Cramer as the athletic trainers for the 32 teams. One week a year, we went from Sunday to Sunday, 7 A.M. to midnight. It was a great experience and it was so enjoyable working with Doc. I’ve also found that few people know that Doc had a background in adaptive physical education. He volunteered with children and adults with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or mal-aligned joints. He was very good at it and was strongly tied to that community. He was a good guy.”

Before Gary started working at Western Missouri, he was assigned to provide instruction at Doc’s summer Cramer camps. “Doc’s camps were the largest camps Cramer had in the Midwest,” he says. “Many of the campers were 14-16 year olds with no skills. You think of camp as being fun, but Doc took the approach that if you want to be part of this, you need to work. He put the campers to the test, and there was very little playtime. He was also ahead of his time in a few areas. I remember in the late 1970s, talking to him about concussions at a time when the medical community knew very little about it. Doc kept saying, ‘We have to figure out how to evaluate these kids who hit their heads. We’re letting them go back and play without data about their condition.’ And of course, he was right.”

Lynn Bott, ATC, was Doc’s student and became the head athletic trainer at the University of Kansas. Currently, he’s at Baker University. “I attended Kansas State Teachers College (now Emporia State) in the fall of 1971,” Lynn says. “I got to know Doc because I had played football. I was majoring in biology and PE, and Doc said to me, ‘Why don’t you try athletic training?’ I tried it, and it was a lot of fun. Back then, we didn’t have a training room, so we treated athletes under the stadium. Most days, Doc and I would jog at noon, along with a few professors. Now, there are two athletic training rooms at Emporia State, and they’re both named after Doc. He has left quite a legacy for turning out many athletic trainers.”

Doc is in the Emporia State University Athletics Hall of Honor, Emporia State HPER Hall of Honor, the NATA Hall of Fame, the NAIA Hall of Fame, and the Kansas Athletic Trainers' Society Hall of Fame. In 2003, he received the university’s Service Citation Award for individuals moved to service by a deep concern for and loyalty to Emporia State. And he received the 1995 Darrell E. Wood Service Award from the Teachers College for his total commitment to professionalism. He is survived by his wife, Pamela, as well as a son, stepson, daughter, stepdaughter, two brothers, a sister and 10 grandchildren. Contributions in his memory may be made to Baxter Student Trainer Scholarship or the Baxter Sports Medicine Center, both at Emporia State University.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Doc’s family and mourn the loss of this remarkable man, alongside thousands of others who were fortunate enough to know him.