EATA inducts Mr. Zappala into Hall of Fame

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Mr. Zappala at the ETA Hall of Fame induction on Jan. 6, sporting the watch he received as an honor.

Matthew Corsitto, Sports Editor

On Jan. 6, Schreiber’s beloved athletic trainer Mr. Rick Zappala was inducted into the Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association’s (EATA) Hall of Fame.  The EATA created this hall of fame—also referred to as the 49 Club—to recognize members of the Association whose work in the field of athletic training have left significant and outstanding impact on the advancement of the profession and the objectives of the EATA.  Through his many accomplishments across many years as an athletic trainer, this honor is perhaps Rick’s most prestigious recognition to date.

“I guess you’ve got to be around for a long time,” said Zappala.  “I’m a believer in that, no matter what profession you’re in, everybody should try to give something back.  I’ve been active, I was the president of the New York State association, I served as president of the EATA, and they’re the ones that put me in their hall of fame.  I personally didn’t think I did anything really special, but apparently somebody did.”

Before beginning his career as athletic trainer for Schreiber High School, Rick spent 24 years working as a collegiate athletic trainer.  22 of those years were spent at Hofstra University, where he served as Head Athletic Trainer.  Rick was also an active participant US Olympic volunteer athletic trainer program.  He served on the United States medical staff at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

In the past, Zappala has also served as president of the EATA and the New York Athletic Trainers’ Association.  He has been a member of numerous committees for several large associations, including the EATA, NATA, and NYSATA.  He is currently serving on the New York Education Department’s Office of Professions Committee for Athletic Training.

Zappala received the Thomas Sheehan award from the NYSATA in 1992 and the Cramer Award from the EATA in 2001.  He was honored with a Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer award in 2005 by the NATA.  Schreiber High School and Rick were granted with a Joseph Abraham Award in 2007 for his exceptional work in student athletic training.  In 2008, he was inducted into the NYSATA Hall of Fame.  But when he was awarded this honor, Zappala seemed quite enthusiastic about his EATA Hall of Fame watch.

“You know I’ve got plaques,” said Zappala.  “And the thing about a plaque is it sits and hangs in my office and no one sees it.  So when someone asks me about my Hall of Fame I can go, ‘Look at this!’ This is what they gave us, watches.  I think that’s pretty neat.”

Mr. Zappala has been working at Schreiber High School for fifteen years, working as head athletic trainer for student athletes.  Over the years, Rick has established an amazing connection with the student body, and is beloved by all athletes, coaches, and staff members alike.

“This is my fifteenth year here at Schreiber.  I love coming to work everyday, we’ve got good kids here,” said Zappala.  “I meet kids, they come in as freshman, and four years later I see them graduate as young men and women, going off to college or whatever they’re gonna do in the world.  But specifically for the job, to have someone come in when they’re hurt, they have an injury, and just helping them through that and then ultimately helping them recover and get better and see them go back out and play and succeed.  Certainly being part of that is exciting.”

Rick’s work day at Schreiber is typically quite busy and laborious, but he enjoys every minute of it.  Hundreds of student athletes rely on Rick for their health and wellbeing, and more importantly, quick recovery.  Zappala has done an exceedingly great job at ensuring athletes their health and recovery.

“In the fall, like September, October, I could see anywhere from 30-40 kids a day,” said Zappala. “This time of the year, winter time, usually it’s more around 15-20.  I always joke with the wrestling coaches, if wrestling’s away, it’s a quiet day, and if wrestling’s here, I’m busy.  And then in the springtime it’ll pick up again.”

When sitting in Mr. Z’s office it’s easy to see the influence he has over all the student athletes he works with.  Zappala is a remarkable conversationist, and a very experienced trainer.  He loves working with students, so much so that he offers several senior experience positions to twelfth grade students each year.

“I spoke to a former athlete here, and she’s in medical school,” said Zappala on his influence.  “She said ‘Mr. Z, I took your class,’ (I used to teach a number of years ago), ‘and you inspired me to become a doctor.’  And that was humbling, but it was also kind of an awakening to realize you have so much influence over kids.”

Providing student athletes with such great health care and recovery gives them a sense of security.  Athletes at Schreiber who suffer an injury can feel safe knowing that they have Rick to help them through.  This pushes them to work harder and play better whenever they get the chance.  Student athletes offered nothing but admiration and praise for their athletic trainer, Mr. Zappala.

“I recently tore my ACL.  He did tests on different parts of my knee and suspected something was wrong with my meniscus so I went for an MRI.  It turned out, I had a fully torn ACL and that it’d require surgery.  He had me come into his office everyday this past week for tests because he knew something was wrong,” said senior and basketball player Daniel Dash.  “Mr. Z is fantastic. When you couple his knowledge with his experience in the field, it’s easy to see why he’s so successful in what he does.  When you factor in his ability to relate with student athletes, you really have to take a moment to realize how lucky Schreiber is to have Mr. Zappala.”

“Mr. Z has influenced our season in a very positive way.  He is a great supporter of Port Washington athletics.  Members of the team admire him and look up to him as a mentor, including myself,” said senior and basketball player Conor Shanahan. “He used to be my dad’s athletic trainer too, for Hofstra basketball.”

After discussing the influence he has over all the students he sees on a daily basis at Schreiber, Zappala recalled some of his earliest influence in becoming an athletic trainer.

“When I was a student, a senior at Boston College, a new head athletic trainer came on board that year, and I was actually in the process of interviewing for some teaching jobs,” said Zappala.  “He pulled me aside and asked ‘Did you ever think about doing this as a career?’ and I said ‘Well, no, not really.’  And he goes ‘Well you really should, because you’re pretty good at it.’  All I can say is, that was 1978, and here we are forty years later, and I’m doing it and loving it more every day.”

Schreiber athletic faculty members, as well as the students, recognize the influence and importance of Zappala’s work.

“We congratulate Rick on this prestigious honor.  He is an invaluable part of the athletic program and it is our great fortune that we have the competency and passion that Rick displays every day with our student athletes,” said Athletic Director Stephanie Joannon.  “Mr. Z is in charge of nearly one thousand at the high school where he provides immediate care, rehabilitation programs, concussion management, impact testing, follow up with parents and doctors, and genuinely cares for each athlete.  He is invaluable to the program.  He is more than an athletic trainer, he is a teacher, a motivator and a true professional.”

“Be a sponge, ready and willing to absorb as much as you can,” said Zappala.  “Find something you love, follow your passion.  If your job is something you love, it doesn’t really feel like a job.”

Congratulations to Mr. Rick Zappala on his well-deserved induction into the EATA’s Hall of Fame.