‘Never Give Up’ — The Underdog Story Of NHS Athletic Trainer John Juniet
In sports, there are underdogs, surprises, and feel-good stories at all levels, including at the high school ranks. At Newtown High School, fans needed to look no farther than the sideline where the man who helped keep athletes in the game, Athletic Trainer (AT) John Juniet, stood ... taping fingers and ankles, icing knees, and helping get once-injured competitors back at it.
Juniet served as the interim AT throughout the winter and spring campaigns, a sports scene success story in itself considering the long path he has taken.
“I fell in love with this profession when I was 16 years old,” said Juniet, now 52, reflecting on his high school days in Tampa, Fla.
Ironically, although also appropriately perhaps, an injury led to his career pursuit. Juniet suffered a muscle pull while warming up in soccer and never returned with cleats to the playing surface, instead focusing on how to help injured athletes.
“What helped to reinforce the passion for athletic training was in the 80s, during the school year, Tampa General Hospital would hold a monthly symposium for athletic trainers, which allowed us high school kids to sit in on and engage in real life Continuing Ed classes with certified ATs,” Juniet said. “They always had lectures, discussions and hands-on segments. We could interact, work with and be taught by actively working certified athletic trainers. It was a great time to be a student AT then.”
Juniet went to Springfield College in 1987 but circumstances at the time did not allow him to complete his degree.
After two-and-half decades of various jobs, including retail work, and starting a family, Juniet — who resides in Meriden with his wife Betty, and whose daughter, Victoria, is a gymnastics coach — was able to renew acquaintances with his passion and went to Central Connecticut State University from 2013 to 2016, where he earned a degree in Athletic Training.
Juniet, who finished his schooling at age 47, believes he is the oldest to earn an Athletic Training degree in the history of Central.
Juniet has had multiple AT positions, including at Xavier of Middletown and most recently at Sheehan High of Wallingford, but those were a little different in that he represented companies that treated athletes, meaning he did not do the soup to nuts all-in high school athletic training work. Instead of referring an athlete to a rehabilitation practice, he works with them himself.
When the opening came up at Newtown High late this past fall, Juniet jumped on it, and he is thrilled after two busy and exciting seasons with the Nighthawk teams.
“I’m so grateful to actually be doing what I love fully and unrestricted,” Juniet said.
From the midafternoon preparation for practices on through the 9 pm postgame muscle icings under the lights Juniet was there for the Nighthawks for the past six-plus months.
Juniet handles everything from sprains to ACL injuries to fractures, and there is rehab work, getting players back to game competition strength.
“To see them back on the court or back on the field it’s really rewarding. It’s what I live for,” Juniet said.
Juniet added that he enjoys the variety of sports. Having not worked at NHS in the fall yet, Juniet said the two sports that had the most injuries were wrestling and lacrosse.
“Injuries happen in every sport — even if it’s club Frisbee there are injuries that happen,” he said.
Among the notable experiences for Juniet was working with a track runner on their gait and making adjustments to shake a lingering injury.
“It was a nagging thing. It wouldn’t go away,” he said. “We can’t cure everything but what we can do is get them back as ready as we can.”
Another fond memory for this past school year was when a baseball player returned to the lineup, homered, and pointed to Juniet to say thank you.
“It’s really great. I’m enjoying it,” said Juniet, adding that the support of the administration and coaches has been outstanding.
Juniet has come a long way but is still paying his dues and hopeful of a permanent full-time position as athletic trainer. His contract as interim AT ends at the end of the school year, but his tenure does not entirely end. Doug Michlovitz, who filled in during the fall and in spots throughout the winter and spring as needed, will be taking the reins as the new full-time AT.
Juniet will be the school full-time as suspension proctor and part-time AT at the start of the 2022-23 school year. The ultimate goal is for there to be two full-time ATs in place at NHS, Juniet said.
“It’s really needed. We need two because of the number of teams we have, number of sports, and all of the locations we use,” said Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli, whose teams not only play on multiple fields at Newtown High, but off campus at Treadwell Park, Fairfield Hills, and Reed School (for cross country), for example.
Currently, between fall, winter, and spring — and including freshmen, junior varsity, and varsity squad — there are 58 at Newtown High. That number can fluctuate slightly from year to year based on player turnout.
“That will be exciting to see how everything shapes up, to see the full circle of Newtown athletics,” Juniet said.
After all of these years, “I’ve found my calling,” Juniet said.
Memoli said the knowledge and personality Juniet brings is beneficial to the athletics department.
“It’s impressive — it’s very impressive. I’ve never seen it. It’s hard to do. I give him a lot of credit,” Memoli, also a Central graduate, said of Juniet’s long twisting path to athletic training.
Juniet encourages people to use his career experiences as motivation.
“Don’t give up,” he advises. “It’s never too late to chase your dream and do what you love.”
Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.