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John Parsons named new director of NCAA Sport Science Institute

The longtime athletic trainer, researcher and instructor at A.T. Still University will begin his new role in January.

By Brian Burnsed

The NCAA’s Sport Science Institute is welcoming a new expert in January.

John Parsons, who has spent more than two decades studying, practicing and teaching sports medicine and athletic training, will join the NCAA as director of the Sport Science Institute. He will work alongside NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline to address problems such as concussion, student-athlete mental health and improving systems that track sports injuries. Parsons comes to the NCAA from A.T. Still University of Health Sciences in Arizona.  

Parsons is filling the void left by David Klossner, who took a position in Maryland’s athletic department in September after a decade at the NCAA. Hainline is excited about the array of skills Parsons will bring to the position – he holds degrees in sports medicine, exercise science, medical informatics and has a Ph.D. in communication.

“John is uniquely qualified for this position,” Hainline said. “As an athletic trainer, he understands the essential position they hold as the foundation of the intercollegiate medical model. His vast experience in teaching, writing and legislation will enable him to lead the Sport Science Institute during a time of exciting transition.”

Parsons’ affection for sports began early. He swung at fastballs in suburban Cleveland by age 7 and added football and wrestling to his repertoire in high school. In sixth grade, he unknowingly started down a career path to sports medicine when a gym-class high jump went awry and he fractured his patella. He remembers the treatment he received more vividly than the pain he felt. When Parsons realized he wouldn’t be hitting fastballs in college, a high school guidance counselor put him in touch with a professor at nearby Marietta College who offered insight into athletic training.

“I couldn’t think of anything cooler than what they were doing,” Parsons said. “They had an expertise in medicine, they were responding often in emergency situations and they were doing that within the arena of sport.”

Parsons enrolled at Marietta after high school and immediately immersed himself in the field. As an undergraduate, he tended to student-athletes in sports ranging from football to volleyball to crew. His passion for the profession led him to graduate from the University of Arizona with a master’s degree in exercise science in 1996.

Rather than apply that degree on the playing field, he found himself in the classroom. A mentor from graduate school moved on to A.T. Still and offered Parsons a job as an assistant professor, which he gladly accepted. Now an associate professor, he has spent nearly two decades teaching and became program director in 2009.

“I was always enamored with the faculty that I was exposed to,” Parsons said. “I thought that teaching was a phenomenal thing to be able to do to help somebody through their career.”

But teaching has only occupied a sliver of his time. The rest was spent publishing research and amassing education in diverse fields. Parsons is confident that his time spent studying and working with medical technology (e.g. electronic medical records) will be an asset as the NCAA pushes to improve its means of collecting and utilizing sports injury information data. That information will be used to educate athletic trainers and team physicians throughout the membership about injury trends and the most effective treatments.

Parsons has also served each of the profession’s major organizations, including the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the Board of Certification and the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education. Experiences working with those groups, he said, have given him well-rounded insight into the profession, its challenges and its opportunities.

Parsons’ enthusiasm for and experience shaping sports medicine policy – a primary reason why he acquired a Ph.D. in communication from Arizona State University in 2009 – will serve him well as he and Hainline work to help the membership better understand needed policy changes on an array of topics.

Among them: How do sports injuries and the mental strains of being a student-athlete impact their efforts in the classroom and affect their personal lives? What policy changes can be made that simultaneously keep student-athletes safe and fulfilled?

Parsons is eager to address those questions when he assumes his new role on Jan. 21, 2014. Having the means to answer them is the reason he pursued the job.

“There’s no position like it in the country,” Parsons said. “It allows me to work not only in an area of policy but also research and education and service and advocacy – all things that I’ve experienced, all for the betterment of the student-athlete. With the full force and influence of the NCAA behind me, it’s an unbelievable position.”