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Dale Mildenberger

Old Main Society Member Dale Mildenberger has had a lifetime of athletic training

Tucked amid a myriad of taping tables and strength training machines sits the quaint-yet-modern office of the man who has been in charge of the athletic training staff at USU since the mid-1970s.

Dale Mildenberger, who is in the midst of his 35th season as the head athletic trainer at USU, is to USU what milk is to cereal - you just can't have one without the other. He is there to watch over the athletes, prevent injuries and then take care of those injuries when they inevitably happen.

"I'm involved in mostly lowlights, the highlights are the touchdowns and the baskets to win games," Mildenberger said. "If I'm involved, something's gone wrong."

Growing up in the small town of Fort Morgan in eastern Colorado, Mildenberger said he loved athletics. When he was a sophomore in high school, his football coach took his team to see a Colorado State University football game. Before the game, the team toured the athletic training facilities, and Mildenberger said he knew right then and there what he wanted to do.

Dale Mildenberger

Dale Mildenberger works on senior 100-meter runner Kimiko Griffith's foot in the new Dale Mildenberger Sports Medicine complex. Mildenberger has been keeping Aggie athletes healthy for 35 seasons.

That initial interest led to an interesting early career before he finally ended up at USU. He served as an assistant athletic trainer at the U.S. Military Academy and the University of Arizona, as well as the head athletic trainer for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Despite such high positions early in his career, raspy-voiced Mildenberger needed only one word to explain what first brought him to Logan and USU.

"Ego," he said with a smile. "I was the assistant trainer at the University of Arizona, and (USU) called me and offered me the head trainer job at Utah State, so I took a cut in pay and moved myself to come be the head trainer at Utah State. What I realized afterwards is that I was the head trainer because I was the only trainer. I moved from the athletic training staff to being the athletic training staff."

Despite arriving in Logan with the intent of using USU as a stepping stone rather than a career spot, Mildenberger has made a home and a name for himself. He said the lifestyle of the community, the size of the university and the quality of the athletic programs kept him here.

"A lot of people may look at Utah State and say well, 'What's Utah State?' It's a fantastic academic institution, athletics have been successful, and now with the new facilities and the things that the institution's done, it's rewarding to have stayed so long," he said. "I hope that I've stayed this long due to some personal merit, and not just due to the fact that I've outlasted everybody."

In more than three decades at Utah State Mildenberger has seen many changes. However, one of the biggest may be a fairly recent one. In August 2008 USU completed a $12 million facility, the Jim and Carol Laub Athletics and Academics Complex.

Inside the 11,000-square-foot center is the Dale Mildenberger Sports Medicine Complex. The new facility is a veritable haven for athletes - especially when compared to USU's old facility, which was nicknamed "the bunker."

Smelling of sweat and athletic tape, the bunker was located in the basement of the building that used to sit in Romney Stadium's north end zone. During his time at USU, Mildenberger has received countless awards for his career accomplishments. One of those accomplishments is the establishment of a widely-used concussion program.

"There are a number of different programs we use to test for concussions," said Dr. Trek Lyons, USU's team doctor, "and what he (Mildenberger) and one of the previous doctors did is brought together a couple elements of these programs and formulated a very specific program. This gives the coaches and athletic trainers a more specific program to follow with concussions. No two concussions are ever the same, what he's allowed by creating this program is he's allowed coaches and players a better expectation of how they're going to go through the process of a concussion."

Due to this research and other accomplishments, Mildenberger was named to the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame in 1994, and in 1998 he was named to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the inaugural Utah Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame in 2003, as well as being named the Utah Athletic Trainer of the Year in 2004.

"I hope they're not all clerical errors, one or two might be, but I hope they're not all clerical errors," said Mildenberger, feigning seriousness.

Jokes aside, Mildenberger said the greatest honor of his career came not from national recognition, but from USU itself. "The decision to put my name on this complex, that's an extremely humbling and very, very gratifying experience when your own institution feels like you've had a body of work that's worth that type of recognition," he said.

More than accolades, the circle he's established around himself in the athletic training profession can probably measure Mildenberger's body of work better than anything else. During his time at USU, he has passed on his skills to numerous trainers. Those trainers have in turn passed on their skills, which have created a vast network in the profession that leads back to Mildenberger.

"He has a huge network of people that have worked for him, been trained by him and then trained other people," Lyons said. "His job is one that can lead to burnout, but his common sense approach is something that's helped him stay in it for so long."

That body of work hasn't been without its hardships. Athletic trainers must constantly deal with athletes who find themselves in a position they do not want to be in. Mildenberger said advances in treatment and technology have only increased the healing expectations of today's injured athletes, making his job even more challenging.

"The downside of this job is the realization that there's not a fix-it for everything that can happen, and at times injuries can end careers, hopes and dreams," he said. "That's not always an easy thing for the athlete. It's not always easy to be the one to tell them those types of things."

Having the right attitude has been paramount in helping Mildenberger deal with three-and-a-half decades of injured athletes and their triumphs and failures in overcoming those injuries.

"I consider myself a positive person in a negative situation," he said. "If I'm involved, something's probably gone wrong, but if you let the negative continue through, it's difficult to be proactive and make a positive difference."

One of those players who has triumphed is Adriane Bybee, a senior linebacker on USU's football team. Bybee battled injuries throughout his junior season, appearing in only one game for the Aggies.

"I remember the first time I had any sort of injury I went to him. I really thought he was just some stubborn guy because he was like, 'Well, what are you going to do about it?' and I was like I don't know, you're the trainer," Bybee said. "As you get to know him though, you just find that's his style. He asks you more questions to truly diagnose what it is because he's dealt with a lot of athletes and there's been plenty of them that come for something and it ends up being something little."

When he's not on the field or in the training room, the 60-year-old keeps busy summer and winter with the recreation Cache Valley has to offer. Water and snow skiing are some of his favorite hobbies - with his wife Kathy of course - along with playing golf and just being involved in the community.

"I'm a pretty good waterskier," he said with a smile. "Even though I'm 60, I can still look pretty good on a Sunday afternoon."

It's that fun and witty attitude that makes Mildenberger so special. It has allowed him to succeed at Utah State and it has allowed him to succeed in his profession by connecting with athletes and helping them overcome their trials.

"Once you get to know him, he's quite a funny guy, he really is one of the funniest guys I know," said Bybee.

Source – The Statesman, November 6, 2009
by Tim Olsen - t.olsen@aggiemail.usu.edu