April 16, 2018
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Now that Jay Shoop has retired, one might think that, after spending nearly a half-century working in sports medicine, Georgia Tech’s long-time athletic trainer will turn from mending student-athletes to sprucing up his beloved golf game.
He does so enjoy swinging the sticks.
But you’d get only partial credit for that suggestion because it seems that Shoop will never stop tending. He has plenty of work lined up in east Cobb County, where he and his wife of 46-plus years, Anne, and their two children and five grandchildren are all within about a five-mile radius.
Jay will spend more time in a rocking chair, too, alongside his 98-year-old father.
So, golf will remain a dalliance delayed.
“When you work and you do it for so long, there are so many things to do. I have about two months of honey-dos,” Shoop said with his trademark-able chuckle. “There’s yard work, things that are broken that need repair. There will be a lot of soccer practices, a lot of recitals . . . I can help Anne more.”
After serving as director of sports medicine at Georgia Tech from 1987-’99 and from 2002 until a couple weeks ago, it’s easy to look forward to spending more time with his family and Jay is just as excited about a new job without pay.
It’s in his DNA.
For 48 years, he helped repair others, and he’s not stopping. Shoop, 70, will become a Stephens Minister in the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, aiding people who are experiencing difficulty in their lives.
Mostly, he’ll be a listener, and history suggests that he’ll be great at it.
Tech’s legendary athletic trainer went beyond taping ankles and diagnosing injuries. He was and still is a listener, a talker, and a treater.
“That’s probably more so than the X’s and O’s,” Shoop said. “The interaction with people, and trying to meet their needs. That was gift that I had.”
Growing up in itty-bitty Wise, Va., not too far from the corners of Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, Shoop fancied himself an athlete as a young man. His stature eventually weaned him from football and baseball, however, and he pondered options.
Mom and dad had an opinion. Herman and Edith Shoop made it clear that following his father, “Red,” into the coal mines was a no-go.
Before Shoop was inducted into the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame in 2012, he recalled for ramblinwreck.com the time when his father woke him one Saturday morning and took his 14-year-old son to work.
In the moist mine were rats. Stuff fell from overhead.
Then, Red said, `Now you’ve seen it and I don’t ever want you coming back.’
So, Jay went 75 miles south to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. After considering a career as a sportswriter — he showed up thinking he’d major in journalism — Shoop’s path turned after he started as a student manager with the football team.
Sports medicine it would be, with ETSU head trainer Jerry Robertson as a model.
“He had a tremendous impact on my life, just watching him do what he did, taking care of people,” Shoop recalled.
Still a student, Jay met Atlanta Falcons trainer Jerry Rhea when the NFL team held its training camp at ETSU. That connection would eventually bring the Wise man to Atlanta.
“I met him kind of casually in 1969, my first year with the Falcons. He was a student trainer at East Tennessee and helping the Bristol Tigers of the Appalachian Rookie League; they were a minor league team of the Tigers,” Rhea said. “He was like a third trainer. He knew every doctor we needed to get to outside of an orthopedist.”
After graduating, Shoop served no time in the minor leagues. In 1970, he was named head trainer at Furman University in South Carolina.
“That wouldn’t happen in this day and time,” Shoop said of his rapid ascension into the real world. “I was young and eager, well-trained . . . I was the youngest head trainer in the nation; really, really green, and they were patient with me.”
Not long after Shoop moved to Traveler’s Rest, just north of Greenville, the Falcons moved their summer training camps to Furman. And Jay kept helping.
Come 1976, Rhea invited him to work in the NFL full-time, and the now-married young trainer joined the Falcons as an assistant.
“Nobody everybody said anything bad about him,” Rhea said. “He’s taken care of a lot of athletes and coaches and administrators and people with problems. I’ve seen him mad, but not much; maybe about a bad call or a no-call. I flew off the handle at everything. Nobody was listening to me. They were listening to Jay.”
As the Falcons fired head coach Leeman Bennett in 1982, Shoop remembered that, “I got the itch,” to be a head trainer again, and he left Atlanta to become a head trainer once more.
He spent two years with the Michigan Panthers of the now-defunct USFL in 1983-’84 before returning to the NFL. Bennett was head coach of the Buccaneers and called him to Tampa Bay in 1985-’86.
Bennett was fired and Georgia Tech athletic director Homer Rice — who had NFL experience — called Shoop and asked him to come to The Flats. In 1987, he returned to Atlanta.
“Dr. Rice, his character and demeanor and the way that he did things, he was always a person that you looked up to,” Jay said. “He was the kind of person that you always respected.”
Shoop stayed at Tech until 1999, his time wrapped around a stint as chief athletic director of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, when he oversaw the installation of dramatic upgrades to the Institute’s athletic treatment facilities.
Then, he moved to another siren’s call.
Former Tech head football coach Bobby Ross asked him to work with the NFL’s Detroit Lions. That lasted one year, as Ross resigned because of health problems before the 2000 season was complete.
After a year on the sidelines, Jay returned to Georgia Tech, where his sit-talk-and-listen style has been as notable as his ability to diagnose and treat injuries for 29 of the last 31 years.
Shoop is golfing a little more now, and thinks that in a few months he’ll swing the clubs even more.
Before he fixes his game, he’s got to fix a bunch of stuff at home, work a new hobby as a bee-keeper, and keep tending to family. That includes his father, back in Virginia, where Red still drives.
The son of Herman and Edith — who passed a couple years ago — keeps driving as well. Beyond miscellaneous chores around the house and a trip to Israel that Jay and Anne have planned “to walk in the footsteps of our Lord,” there is another plan.
Still, Jay will tend. Rhea said that his friend has made the five-hour drive home “countless times” and he’ll be “great” as a Stephens minister.
Even with that, there is more time to make the drive.
“I’ll miss the organization, and the training room, and the sports medicine department,” Shoop said of Georgia Tech. “I’ll miss the competition . . . There’s nothing like the ride to the stadium on the bus where no one speaks and everyone is getting mentally prepared. And when you come out of the tunnel, you can’t replace that.
“Yes, there will be some golfing. I want to be a regular, a couple times, three times a week eventually. But as I mentioned, my dad is 98, still living. These next few years, I want to spend a lot of time in Wise, Va. in the rocking chairs on the front porch.”