If there was a starting point along the continuum in the modern history of athletic training at Northern Illinois University, 87-year-old Al Kranz would be it.
You must know that Al doesn’t talk that way about himself. But I will.
In athletics, few people are as popular and beloved as the dedicated, benevolent trainer who keeps you on the field or on the floor. At our many Tom Jorgensen-era (1966-73) men’s basketball reunions over the years, we made sure we invited Al. Jorgy was No. 1 in everyone’s hearts, but Kranz ranked a close second.
On the sidelines at Saturday’s spring football game and upon hearing that Kranz and two of his most illustrious training protegés, Roger “Doc” Kalisiak and Bill Tessendorf, had been on campus last week, baby boomer Huskies such as former defensive back Tom Harvey (1967-69), defensive back Dan DeVito (1968-70) and tailback Steve Goehl (1970-71) perked up and smiled in unison. They remembered, too.
Not to disparage his predecessors or successors, but as NIU’s first certified athletic trainer, Kranz impacted hundreds of student-athletes, his students and staff, and the sports medicine profession itself during his tenure as a student trainer (1946-50), graduate assistant (1951), faculty assistant (1963), plus head trainer and assistant professor in physical education (1966-74) at NIU.
The co-founder of the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association in 1970, Kranz lobbied for the passage of the Illinois Athletic Trainers Act that regulated the state’s professional standards in 1986. He was enshrined as a charter member into the IATA Hall of Fame in 1984 and his alma mater’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989. His NIU academic colleagues honored him with the Excellence in Teaching Award in 1974. He left the college ranks to become a corporate fitness trainer at Amoco in Chicago (1974-95).
As I mentioned, Al doesn’t relish center stage. But at last week’s seventh annual Kalisiak distinguished athletic training alumni lecture series at the Yordon Center, I got the distinct impression that Kranz was still the nexus of the whole affair – representing the local confluence of his profession – past, present and future.
Presented by NIU’s College of Education and the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, the Kalisiak lecture featured Paul Plummer, the current president of the Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association and certified trainer for St. Vincent Sports Performance Physicians in Indianapolis.
Plummer talked about “life lessons” during his 25-year training career to a large and attentive audience from NIU’s athletic training education program, plus training personnel from Eastern Illinois University and North Central College, the head trainer at Northwestern University, and VIP guests such as Kranz, Kalisiak, Tessendorf, department chair Paul Carpenter, athletics director Jeff Compher, and current head trainer Phil Voorhis. Old-home week turned into “Dancing with the (ATC) Stars.” The recipients of the annual Al Kranz Athletic Training Scholarship were recognized, too.
Coupled with the buzz over the recent announcement that both Kalisiak and Tessendorf will be inducted into the NATA Hall of Fame on June 28 in St. Louis at the organization’s national meeting, the lecture event was a seminar/ “family” reunion/passing-the-torch ceremony/ celebration of athletic training.
In regards to Kalisiak and Tessendorf’s impending NATA enshrinement, Kranz was beyond proud. “I was as happy as [heck], extremely happy for both of them,” their mentor said. “Such a national honor is well-deserved for what they did for the profession. Roger and Bill worked diligently for this. Both had a strong interest in the training field and both were willing to work hard and tolerate the long hours and crazy life.”
Tessendorf, who retired in 2011 after 38 NFL seasons, including most recently with the Baltimore Ravens, answered his own rhetorical question.
“Where would Roger and I be without Al? In my case, I wouldn’t have even been in the profession,” he said. “I thought I was going to be an engineer, but I ran into some grade problems. My dad always told me to find work or something that I enjoyed. I had been a trainer in high school at Luther North. So I went over to the (Chick Evans) fieldhouse and met with Al, who was enthusiastic and laid things all out. I started working with basketball and Jorgy. Don Russell was the first ankle I taped.”
“Al taught people skills. You don’t find that in a textbook,” said Tessendorf, who drove in from Maryland last week and was a 2000 inductee into the Northern Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame. “(Whether it’s) the NFL or NCAA, you must interact with different people – athletes, coaches, administrators – who are under stress and want to perform. You have to treat everyone the same – starter or backup. When I was working with the Ravens, I told people that in my family I have one daughter and 58 sons (Ravens’ roster players). Al? That’s my second father.”
Kalisiak joined Kranz’s NIU training staff as a freshman when Tessendorf was a senior.
“I came in during football three-a-days. Bill was like my older brother. Instantly, I had someone to look up to,” Kalisiak said. “My mentor was Al. You couldn’t help but learn from him. I was very fortunate. Al built the foundation for Bill and I. Al became my No. 2 dad. He was family-oriented, caring and demanding.”
As the trainer at Hoffman Estates High School for 33 years (1975-2007), Kalisiak was named the National High School Athletic Trainer of the Year in 1983, inducted into the IATA Hall of Fame in 1991, and voted NATA’s Most Distinguished Trainer in 1995. For Kalisiak and Tessendorf, the NATA Hall of Fame honor is mind-blowing.
“When NATA notified me, I called back the next day and asked if they could share who else was in the 2012 induction class,” Kalisiak recalled. “The fourth name on the list was William Tessendorf. What are the chances? ‘How do you know him?’ they asked. I said, ‘We went to school together at Northern.’ I’m thrilled.”
Tessendorf’s reaction: “I’m gratified and humbled, especially to go in with my good friend Roger.”
At the conclusion of the Kalisiak lecture, I went up to Gretchen Schlabach, the director of NIU’s nationally accredited ATEP, and asked: “Do you think the next Roger Kalisiak or Bill Tessendorf is in this room?” Al Kranz would love her reply.
Without hesitation, Schlabach answered: “Absolutely.”
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.