ATHENS — Georgia athletics has dealt with some pretty traumatic medical situations lately.
Just a few weeks ago, UGA sprinter Elija Godwin found himself impaled on a javelin in a freak accident at the Bulldogs’ track and field facility. This past weekend, football player D’Wan Mathis came in complaining of sinus pressure and a headache. Turned out to be a cyst on his brain.
In both cases, there were very positive outcomes. Each athlete is expected to return to their respective sport. More importantly, tragedy was averted.
I thought about that today as I was contemplating an event coming up this weekend. There is going to be a celebration of life service at Sanford Stadium this Sunday for longtime Georgia trainer Warren Morris. Morris died on April 28 in Athens. He was 87.
A huge turnout of football lettermen is expected, hence the use of the newly-renovated West End of the stadium as the venue. Morris cared for virtually every football player who passed through UGA during his time as head football trainer (that’s what they called the position then). From 1965-1995, that’s 3,000 or more.
“He was nationally recognized for his expertise,” said Ron Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine (that’s what they call it now). “He helped countless student-athletes throughout his career and left a phenomenal legacy. Warren laid the foundation upon which the University of Georgia sports medicine program was built.”
And Courson has turned it into a towering skyscraper.
Courson succeeded Morris in 1995. In the 24 years since, he has carried the University of Georgia all the way the top of college athletics when it comes to medical care for student-athletes.
Most of the time, that’s dealing with knee, ankle and shoulder injuries. Sometimes, it’s more than that.
Just think about the recent past around UGA athletics. There were the paralyzing injuries of baseball players Johnathan Taylor and Chance Veazey and the one to visiting Southern University football player Devon Gales. There was the stroke of Georgia football letterman David Jacobs. With more than 500 student-athletes under his care, surely there are countless other medical dramas that play out behind the scenes without notice.
Of course, Courson doesn’t go it alone. He has a huge staff of trainers and a platoon of medical professionals who devote their time and expertise to UGA Athletics. But Courson unquestionably is the tip of the spear.
Which conveniently brings us back to that javelin accident. Untold until now is the story behind that story. It was Godwin’s good fortune that the track and field trainer that first attended to him that afternoon was Stacy Kisil. Kisil happens to also be a trained emergency medical technician in addition to being a trainer. The decision to cut off the rest of the javelin and leave the part stuck in Godwin’s lung embedded in his back probably saved his life.
“She did an outstanding job,” Courson said.
Of course she did. Excellence and devotion to care is a requirement of the job, and it is exemplified by Courson every day. He is truly a Hall of Fame athletic trainer, inducted into that distinguished group in 2018.
Courson is also trained as an EMT, as well as a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He holds an undergraduate degree in physical education from Samford University and graduated with honors with a physical therapy degree from the Medical College of Georgia. He has bunch of other certificates with medical acronyms on them. In addition, he’s an adjunct professor at UGA in the department of kinesiology. The list of awards, accomplishments and accolades grows from there.
But there’s only one thing Terence Mathis cares about. Courson was the person who performed the initial evaluation on his son, D’Wan Mathis. He’s forever thankful that Courson didn’t just say “here’s a couple of Advil and some sinus spray. Come back and see me next week.”
Instead, he ordered a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. That revealed the growth pressing against Mathis’ brain.
“Words can’t express my gratitude,” Terence Mathis told DawgNation’s Mike Griffith.
Here’s another tidbit behind the Mathis story: Courson was supposed to leave for a cruise with his family the next morning. He didn’t go. He stayed with the Mathis family and let his own go on vacation without him.
“He has been right there with D’Wan since he was first diagnosed,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “That just speaks to the level of care and passion he puts into these student-athletes, and not just football. Ron’s someone who needs to get away because he’s so engrossed in his work. But any instance where we’ve had to deal with a traumatic situation, Ron’s fingerprints have been on it.
“And it’s not just Ron. It’s his staff. I think about Mike Dillon and the Jonathan Taylor situation and Stacy with the recent track accident. Ron and his staff are so caring and I think you see parents acknowledge that.”
It’s one thing to tell others how to lead. It’s quite another to demonstrate how it’s done daily.
Which brings us back to Morris. It was a different day and time. The game has changed, medical technology has advanced and training staffs have grown exponentially. But he also was always there for his players. I was reminded of his quick response to a heat stroke that befell defensive lineman Donnie Maib in the late 1990s and the awful broken leg that Arthur Marshall suffered in a game around 1990 or so. It was Morris who was first to grip their hands and make those critical first-minute decisions.
“Warren was a leader in the profession, too,” McGarity said. “As you can tell by the number of lettermen that will be there Sunday, he meant a lot to a lot of young men who were playing for Georgia at the time.”
Said Courson: “I feel honored and blessed to be able to follow in his footsteps.”
Georgia’s student-athletes are the ones who are truly blessed.