By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Marty Baker began his time as an athletic trainer for college teams at Elon more than four decades ago as the only trainer in the athletics department.
By the time he retired at the end of the past school year, the college had become a university and just about everything had changed.
“It has been a great run,” Baker said. “I’ve enjoyed just about every second of it, if not every second.”
Baker will be one of seven inductees into the Elon Sports Hall of Fame next weekend. Five of those to be enshrined weren’t born when Baker began his time at Elon.
“I needed a job and Elon needed an athletic trainer,” he said. “I don’t regret a moment of it.”
IN THE BEGINNING, A ONE-MAN SHOW:
“I started with football in August. When football was over, I hopped in the vans with the basketball team. And when basketball was over, I jumped in the vans with the baseball team.”
– Elon’s former athletic trainer Marty Baker
He arrived in 1980 and had a chance a year or so later to leave to work at Duke and with the men’s basketball team, but he stayed at Elon.
Those early days with Elon teams meant going from one sport to another.
“I started with football in August,” he said. “When football was over, I hopped in the vans with the basketball team. And when basketball was over, I jumped in the vans with the baseball team.”
For nine years, he was the only trainer for all of the college’s teams. He spent 17 years as the primary trainer for the football team, though he helped with that program throughout his time. He held the title of head athletic trainer from 1980-2007.
More recently, he was with the women’s basketball team, volleyball team, women’s track and field team, and women’s tennis team. He said concentration on women’s tennis for much of the past decade was satisfying.
“I found that very refreshing and very rewarding,” Baker said. “It allowed me to focus attention and give more individual care. You’re working with a smaller group.”
Gone were the days when he would arrive at 6:30 a.m. and leave at 7:00 p.m. and then “drive home thinking I should have done X, Y and Z.”
On game days, he often had the keys. He said he rode with head football coach Jerry Tolley to the first road game as Elon’s trainer. He frequently was behind the wheel of one of the vans with the basketball team, pointing out that Danny Morrison, an assistant coach who later became president of the Carolina Panthers, might be driving the other van.
As Elon rose to Division I, there were many upgrades in the operations and logistics.
“It’s about making sure the student-athlete has a positive experience,” Baker said. “There’s always changes that had a positive effect on how we did our jobs. It’s a journey that has always evolved and that’s part of the allure for me.”
He was around long enough to see a nickname change, several switches in conference affiliations, the addition of more sports, and three renovations of Koury Field House.
“I got 43 one-year contracts, and every year was different, and I think that was a good thing,” Baker said. “I loved being part of the growth of the institution as a whole and the athletic department.”
While he was a one-man show, the sports were largely seasonal. Now many athletes are on campus nearly year-round and they’re involved in structured team activities throughout the school year.
Now, there are nearly a dozen trainers at Elon. Baker isn’t one of them.
“When you work in athletics, you generally work over the weekends. You don’t control your own schedule. Now I’m learning a new vocabulary. One of the first words I learned in retirement was ‘no.’ ”
– Former Elon University athletic trainer Marty Baker
“When you work in athletics, you generally work over the weekends,” he said. “You don’t control your own schedule. Now I’m learning a new vocabulary. One of the first words I learned in retirement was ‘no.’ ”
Baker, who received an undergraduate degree from SUNY-Brockport and masters from Indiana State, said he’ll stay connected with several professional trade groups because he embraces the profession. In 2018, he was inducted into the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Hall of Fame.
Baker and his wife, Jill, have more time to visit their three grown children and their families. Now he can tend to gardening – and that never looked better this summer – and reading.
Eric Storsved, assistant athletics director for sports medicine at Elon and on the staff since 2007, said Baker’s role had been remarkable. And, naturally, there’s a long line of stories involving the now-retired trainer.
“Most of them are humorous,” Storsved said.
Others in the Elon Sports Hall of Fame class are former men’s soccer coach Darren Powell; Kelsey Evans (Class of 2013, women’s basketball); Ryan Kinsella (Class of 2014, baseball); Carleigh Nester (Class of 2014, softball); Lucas Troutman (Class of 2014, men’s basketball); and Luis Vargas (Class of 2015, men’s cross country).
The 53rd Hall of Fame class will be inducted in a ceremony at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, September 16 at the Schar Center. The group will be recognized at halftime of Elon’s football game against North Carolina A&T that evening.
Photos courtesy of Elon University Athletics Department