From the SLC: ATs Care's Beginnings

October 3, 2018 by Beth Sitzler

Hello Students and welcome to the SLC’s To The Students, an open letter from ATs Care! ATs Care is a program designed to offer crisis management training opportunities for athletic trainers with the effects after a critical incident. This is a peer-to-peer system to assist ATs and AT students when dealing with a difficult event. We have two excellent open letters for you, the first from Jim Thornton, MA, LAT, ATC, past-NATA president and founder of ATs Care. In his letter, Thornton explains the need and creation of ATs Care program. Check back to read the second letter from ATs Care Chair David Middlemas, EdD, ATC, CCISM.


The ATs Care initiative by the NATA is a member benefit that has its roots in caring for one’s own in a profession or group. There have been crisis management teams formed for police, firefighters and other public entities for quite some time. There have been different state organizations within the AT profession that have established these programs in their state, but none for the entire NATA, until now. Since history is a teacher for all of us, I think it is important to understand how ATs Care was developed for NATA and why.

Beginning in 2012, I had the honor of serving as the 12th president of NATA. I had an incredible board of directors and NATA staff to work with during my three-year tenure. Toward the end of my service as president, I had the misfortune of experiencing the death of one of the athletes at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, which is still my place of employment. This young man was a wrestler that was very well-liked by our students and staff. He was a respectful, polite, hardworking young man whose life was cut short by a vehicle accident. We were devastated this loss as you might guess because we had seen Nick virtually every day for rehabilitation on bilateral shoulders, but, alas, it was the fall season. There were practices and events of the other sports that needed services and we, the ATs, were just having to continue on. There was grief counseling available to students, staff and essentially everyone that was associated with Nick – that is, except the ATs.

A week or two after Nick’s death, I received a call from someone who I knew of, but didn’t know well. His name is David Middlemas, EdD, ATC, CCISM. He lived in New Jersey and, to tell you the truth, I thought he was calling to tell me about a problem in NATA or something similar. He asked me how I was doing and I gave him the canned answer of “Doing OK, just trying to keep busy” or something to that affect. Then he said, “No, how are YOU doing?” He informed me that he was trained in crisis management and had heard we lost an athlete. He wanted to know how he could help. He asked about our staff and how they were handling the issue. We spent quite some time on the phone, and I felt better. I felt that someone was there who understood me as an athletic trainer as only another athletic trainer would.

As I mentioned, I was the president of NATA at the time, and it occurred to me that perhaps we could do something at the national level to assist our ATs in times of crisis. Before I stepped down, I asked an incredible board of directors to just look into it to see if we could do something. That is when these insightful folks came up with the ATs Care program. We are doing crisis management training for ATs who want to be involved in the program at state, district and national meetings. Although the training and interventions have to be done by certified/licensed ATs, students can help by notifying their preceptors or NATA about ATs who may be struggling because of crisis in their lives. It doesn’t have to be a death of an athlete. It can be loss of a job or death of a coach, staff or family member, etc. The ATs Care link is displayed prominently on our website with instructions as to how to contact our NATA staff.

I’m honored to have played a small part in the development of this program. The NATA staff and members of the NATA Board of Directors saw a benefit to our members and put in motion this most valuable program. Middlemas was ultimately made the chair of the ATs Care Committee, which has a member of all 10 districts. The committee members are caring, professional, well-trained individuals. I believe the ATs Care initiative has helped a number of people already and will help many more in the future.

Jim Thornton, MA, LAT, ATC

NATA Past-President