Bonci, Hardin lead world-class training staff
The University of Texas' successes in the 2005-06 season have not been limited to the fields of play and the classroom.
The successes have not been limited to the players and the coaches.
To wit: In the middle of this month in Atlanta, Ga., during the National Athletic Trainers' Association annual convention, Tina Bonci, the co-director of athletic training/sports medicine at UT will receive a Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer of the Year award.
Consider that Bonci was selected among the 2,520 eligible candidates. The award recognizes service, leadership, presentations and publications.
"It's really an incredible honor," said Allen Hardin, co-director of athletic training/sports medicine at UT with Bonci. "To be selected by your peers is quite a tribute, and Tina deserves it."
Men's Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds seconds that emotion.
"Tina is a really wonderful person," he said. "She is terrific in the program."
Bonci, moved by winning the award and hearing the praise, injected her perspective on the honor.
"I have been in the profession for 25 years," she began, "and to be recognized by your peers like this is a tremendous honor. I couldn't be more pleased.
"But this isn't just about me or just about Allen. It is about all of our colleagues at Texas. They are a highly-skilled, highly-motivated group of people. It is about an administration that supports us in every way.
"It is about a group of coaches, whose support is integral to our success and it is about the student-athletes who keep us passionate about what we do because of their passion to be the best they can be."
Oh, there's more.
Last month, the Longhorns' athletic training staff was named the Big 12 Conference Athletic Training Staff of the Year, adding another jewel in the crown that is UT Athletics this season.
Not that any of this comes as a surprise to those who know Bonci and Hardin.
What else could one expect from a department that is led by two people who have had an interest in athletic training since they each were in high school?
Simply, they were destined for success.
Bonci, who is in her 21st year at UT, wound up at Lock Haven State, a small college in central Pennsylvania that was known for its excellence in preparing students for careers in physical education.
"Little did I know," she began, "that the college's health and physical education department was about to launch a specialized program in athletic training that would meet the educational criteria for credentialing.
"I was intrigued by the program because it would enable me to combine my interest in both medicine and sport. You could say that I was in the right spot at the right time. I was admitted into the inaugural program and was a member of the first graduating class."
Bonci praised the work of the teachers, administrators and coaches, who inspired the first graduating class that included four men and two women. She moved to the University of Rhode Island as a graduate assistant and then on to the University of Pennsylvania Sports Medicine Center, where she worked for Dr. Joseph Torg, whom Bonci said was considered "the godfather of sports medicine."
Bonci admitted that she was not looking to leave Penn when she received a letter from then-UT Women's Athletics Director Donna Lopiano in the fall of 1985.
"I was enticed by the letter because it said that I had been highly recommended for the job vacancy in their department as the head women's athletics trainer," she said. "I had never been to Texas, but I was aware of the program's excellence in athletics and academics."
How did Lopiano and Head Basketball Coach Jody Conradt convince Bonci to make the move?
"After I stepped off the plane, my first stop was 6th Street on Halloween," Bonci recalled. "They gave me a mask and paraded me around. I can't say that experience solidified my decision to take the job."
"I will say I was impressed by all of the coaches, administrators, faculty and student-athletes," she continued. "Everyone treated me with class. I walked away feeling that everyone believed in me. That alone was empowering."
Hardin, who is in his ninth year at Texas, is an American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties Certified Specialist in sports physical therapy. He was recognized by his peers with the 1997 New Horizon Award, an honor that is given annually to the nation's outstanding young sports physical therapist.
A noted speaker on sports rehabilitation, Hardin has published manuscripts in numerous sports medicine journals and chapters in medical textbooks.
Bonci is currently the chair of a writing group that is developing a position statement on eating disorders.
"Both Tina and I are very involved in issues on a national level," Hardin said.
His father, Bill, was a physician, so Hardin didn't stray far. While at Temple High School he became a student trainer.
"I chose my career path then, really," he said. "Because of what my father did, I knew I wanted to do something to help people. I saw that was what he did and how much that meant to him. So while I wasn't going to be a physician, I knew I was going to be in a position to help people."
Hardin graduated from Texas Christian University in 1991 and then moved to the University of Miami (Fla.) for a master's in physical therapy in 1993.
"I was most fortunate when I left Miami to become the director of clinical research and a physical therapist at the Berkshire Institute in Wyomissing (Pa.) in 1993," Hardin said. "I had a chance to be published. I had an opportunity not many people my age in the business had."
Today at Texas, Hardin appreciates the opportunity to work with student-athletes on a daily basis.
"Hopefully, we can have a positive effect on all of them," he said. "We are advocates for them in that everything we do is to help them be at their peak physically."
Hardin notes, too, that the training staff has the respect of the coaches with regard to issues involving the physical condition of the players.
"We have the credibility with the coaches, that they do not question our decisions on a student-athlete's fitness to play," he said.
Bonci added, "It takes time to cultivate a professional relationship with the attitudes and temperaments of individual student-athletes and coaches."
She said the most challenging part of the job is ensuring that the clinical practice agenda does not operate from the traditional model of reaction-based medicine.
"We constantly are reevaluating our program to make certain we are not shortchanging our student-athletes," Bonci said. "We want them to have all the resources to excel."
And excel is what this department has done under the leadership of Bonci and Hardin.
"Chris (Plonsky, women's athletics director) and I were concerned with how this would work," Dodds said of the co-directorship and the combined relationship of the training staffs. "But, with Allen and Tina, it has worked wonderfully.
"Allen and Tina have done an absolutely beautiful job."