Virtually every student-athlete, coach, and athletics parent who has passed through the halls of Saint Ignatius High School in the last three decades knows the name Hank Gaughan.
For the last 33 years, Gaughan has served as the Head Athletic Trainer of the Wildcats. During his time at Saint Ignatius, the man affectionately known as "Mr. G" has touched the lives of over 6,000 Saint Ignatius alumni. And in a given year, with the increasing popularity of athletics, Gaughan may care for up to 1,000 student-athletes.
Now, after so many years of dedication to the school, Gaughan has decided to retire from his post as head athletic trainer, while remaining a health and physical education teacher at Saint Ignatius.
In the fall of 1985, Gaughan arrived at Saint Ignatius, following seven years at Brush High School. He fell in love with Saint Ignatius nearly immediately.
"My love for the school started during my first year here, at the first fall rally," Gaughan says. "The Alma Mater sent a tingle up my back. I said, 'Wow, this is special.' It's been a great place to work, no doubt about it. Every year, you get a new group of guys in. You get to see them grow and develop. You see them leave, graduate, and some of them now are sending their kids here. So that's two generations in the 33 years. It's been fun."
Gaughan quickly became a beloved figure at Saint Ignatius, both in the eyes of coaches and student-athletes. Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69 certainly appreciates Gaughan's labors. Before Gaughan, Kyle would tape ankles before games, just as the legendary coach and athletic director John Wirtz once taped Kyle's ankles.
"We have been blessed," Kyle says. "Hank has been helping our kids stay and become healthy. To have someone with his knowledge and skill in the building is a huge help. Hank has worked hard to get kids back with great respect to the athlete's health, sometimes in creative ways.
"He has the gift of helping young men get past pitfalls. You never count on injuries. He's helped our students get over obstacles."
Gaughan arrived at Saint Ignatius before it was an athletic powerhouse. The Wildcats' first state championship came in the winter of 1988 when the wrestling team broke down the door, and soon thereafter, Saint Ignatius football blossomed into a nationally renowned program.
Gaughan looks back upon those days with a sentimental eye, calling the 1988 football title one of his best memories. His former student-athletes also look back on those days fondly.
"It was commonplace for a lot of guys to get taped before practices and games," said Chris Adler '89. "Hank, of course, was at home with a foot resting on his belly while he pre-wrapped and taped away. A line would build and of course with that, jokes and laughter would ensue.
"There was so much fun being had in that training room, some of us that didn’t even need to get taped would hang out to just be a part of it. Hank, in his curmudgeon way, wouldn’t let on like he was having fun but you could see him crack a smile often between grunts of exasperation."
Another one of Gaughan's favorite moments came in 2001 during the Basketball Cats' state title run.
"I always said the basketball championship is one of the toughest to win," Gaughan says. "The nice thing is we got that done with my son, Tim '01, being part of the team as a videographer."
Gaughan has never been simply an observer, however. Mike McLaughlin '85 – longtime Head Soccer Coach, chair of the Theology Deparment, and Sophomore Service Director – believes that Gaughan played a critical role in each Saint Ignatius championship.
"His knowledge of how to get kids healthy and back on the field is second to none. Hank is a big part of the success of the soccer program over the last two decades by keeping kids healthy and able to participate.
"I think about the state championships and the people over the years who are the constants in those experiences," McLaughlin continues. "Who's down on the field with the coaches? It's Hank. I think of the people who have given me the biggest bearhugs after we've won, and I think of Hank being right there, celebrating with the players and coaches."
For most of his 33 years, Gaughan's labors have not been in the spotlight. But Gaughan has quietly cemented himself as a well-recognized name at Saint Ignatius.
"Hank is an institution here at Saint Ignatius High School," says Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick '88. "He has impacted so many people over his time here. And it's not in the headlines, it's behind the scenes. Only the families and students know Hank. He's not out there in front of the media or anyone else. He's an in-house institution who everyone knows."
"There are many great things about Ignatius, but what makes it so special? It's the people," says John Ryan '06, a former football player. "I believe that it's the teachers, the faculty, the Jesuits. They're the people who make Ignatius special. And if there's one person who impacts so many kids' lives who doesn't get the credit, it's Hank.
"The amount of time and energy he spends here is unbelievable," Ryan continues. "He shows up everyday and is here constantly, many times a conversation late after practice, talking about life. He has an incredible outlook. He plays such a role in helping student-athletes mature in what they need to do and how they conduct themselves."
Along his journey, Gaughan has demonstrated a relentless work ethic and a drive to improve.
Every summer, Gaughan attends clinics and conventions to hone his craft. Gaughan illustrates the definition of the Jesuit phrase "Magis," always working and striving to be better.
As Kyle says, Gaughan has the magic touch. For an example, Kyle told a story from the 1993 season. Senior defensive end Jim Smith '94 was joking around with friends in the parking lot one day during the week before the state semifinal. Smith's friends wouldn't let him into the car, so Smith jokingly laid down on the hood in protest. His friends then pulled away, causing Smith to roll off and break his left wrist on the cement.
His doctor made a foam cast to protect his wrist in the week before the game, but Smith encountered a problem upon arrival at Canton's Fawcett Stadium. The OHSAA referees would not allow Smith to play with the cast.
"I was really nervous," Smith says. "But Hank was totally calm. He said, 'Smitty, don't worry about it.' So I calmed down as Hank went to work."
Gaughan taped Smith's wrist before creating a special foam cast in the heat of the moment.
"Hank jerryrigged it on the fly and the refs approved it," Smith says, now a lawyer in Cleveland. "My wrist was fine, and it worked out perfectly. I was able to play in the State Semifinal and State Championship. I actually managed to intercept a pass in the semifinal, too."
As Kyle jokes, it was likely Smith's first and only interception. Smith, who serves today as an assistant coach for the Lax Cats, recalled the story with a laugh and a sense of admiration.
"Hank is a great guy. I really respect him," Smith said. "I'm glad I got to know him and that I still see him. I'm sorry he's retiring, but I wish him a wonderful retirement."
Helping Smith and acting as Macgyver in the moment is all in a day's work for Gaughan.
“As my dad said, ‘If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.' It’s true," Gaughan says. "Sure, you have bad days. We all have bad days. But tomorrow is a different day. More highs than lows.”
Student-athletes learn plenty from "Mr. G," developing healthier habits and discovering the correct ways to heal an injury. Thousands of Ignatians have benefitted from his advice, becoming successful professionals in countless fields, including athletic training.
Want proof? Look at the walls of his training room, lined with phrases such as "Thank you'" and "You're the best" written by former student-athletes.
"The fact that past athletes come back to express appreciation for him is a tribute to Hank," Kyle says.
As Gaughan recalls, student-athletes often come back and tell him, 'No one tapes an ankle like you.' That means a lot to Gaughan, as it shows how valuable he is to Saint Ignatius student-athletes.
While student-athletes and parents have learned a lot from Gaughan, the veteran athletic trainer has gained plenty from the myriad of young men who passed through his temple, too.
"I learned patience," Gaughan said. "I learned how to listen to their ailments and their stories. Becoming a confidant. Just being a sounding board for kids, students and athletes."
Gaughan often gives advice to young Wildcats, not only to young men dealing with injuries, but those struggling in other areas with more serious issues. A common piece of advice from "Mr. G":
"If you're not sure what you want to do, try something you've never done. See how you like it," Gaughan says. "Live by the rule of three's – try something three times before you make a final decision. I'm always after kids who have season-ending injuries, 'Hey, do you want to help in the training room?' Try stuff. Don't be afraid to fail."
More than anything, Gaughan is a constant presence: A stoic guardian angel ever-ready to head to where he's needed, and always quick with a quip. Gaughan is often the first to arrive and the last to leave and turn the lights out. That's just the kind of man he is.
But in June, Gaughan's time turning off lights late at night will end. His decision comes as a result of much reflection.
“I knew it was time," says Gaughan. "My knees are really bad. Any game I cover now, someone gets injured on the far side of the field.”
The Saint Ignatius community will be sad to see him step away. Gaughan has done so much for student-athlete health. He worked hard to leave the athletic department better than he left it. In the last two years, Gaughan brought aboard athletic trainer Mo Sizemore from University Hospitals and helped bring the SidelinER medical tent to Saint Ignatius.
As a result of the efforts, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) recently named Saint Ignatius a Safe Sports School.
"Hank is a legend and a mentor in the profession of athletic training," Sizemore says. "I'm not sure if there's anyone else who has maintained his type of position for 33 years. Everyone knows him. And personally, it's unique that we were both able to learn from each other. We complement each other between strong foundations and changing trends.
"I can only hope that we can maintain his legacy. I know that he will be there for us in the next few years if we need him."
In the meantime, Gaughan is sure to receive a flood of emails and texts from alumni and friends congratulating him on a great 33-year run.
"When word spreads that he's stepping away as a trainer, there will be a great outpouring of affection and great memories of Hank over the years," Fitzpatrick says. "He's also worked so closely with so many of our young men who were trainers and worked with him directly before going on to do work at the next level. There's probably a good possibility that one of the guys he helped to train is going to end up back at Saint Ignatius filling that role that Hank filled for so many years."
Countless alumni, coaches, and student-athletes will miss interacting with Gaughan on a daily basis.
"Hank has done so much for so many people around the school. He's extremely selfless," McLaughlin says. "No matter what you need or when you need it, he drops everything in order to help out and to take care of the student-athletes.
"It's been a pleasure to work with Hank the last couple of decades. He's a great man. His selfless service to the school is a model of what we want all of our student-athletes to become."
While Gaughan won't hang around the training room, he will still be around the school. The longtime teacher will stay in the classroom, teaching health to juniors and coming to some games. He does not yet have concrete plans for all of his newfound time, but he does have some ideas.
"The first couple weeks will be weird," Gaughan says. "Maybe I’ll clean my house and find things I haven't seen in years. Rory said I’m more than welcome on the sidelines, but I won't go to road games – I can read about those in the paper. But I'll definitely take a vacation in August with my wife."
As anyone can attest, Gaughan deserves some time for himself.
"If there's someone who deserves a nice retirement, it's Hank," Ryan says.
Whatever Gaughan decides to do with his free time, he will always have a home at West 30th and Lorain.
"He will be part of Saint Ignatius forever," says Fitzpatrick. "He will always have a place on the sidelines, in the gym, on the court, wherever he wants to go. He has VIP Gold Card status for the rest of his life at Saint Ignatius."