March Madness 2019
The Road to March Madness: Elite Athletes & Orthopedists
Gonzaga Men’s Basketball kicked off the 2018-2019 season with an easy win against the CWU Wildcats on November 1st. Twenty-four hours later, the Gonzaga Women beat Carroll College handily during their first season game.
Fans knew there was a long road to March Madness—even with Gonzaga’s historically solid basketball program. The men’s regular season finished with a 16-0 conference record that secured a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Women finished with a 16-2 conference record solidifying a 5th seed for the Women’s NCAA Tournament.
Now that Selection Sunday is over, both Zag Teams can focus on what they’ve worked so hard to achieve. The Men play their first game March 21st while the Women’s first game is March 23rd. (Have you created your bracket yet? If not, you can download the official NCAA bracket here.)
While we sit back and enjoy the tournament on TV, it’s easy to forget the hard work and dedication of the coaches, trainers, and medical team who keep these elite players performing at their peak.
For more than 25 years, orthopedic team members from NWOS have covered Gonzaga Athletics. Currently, Dr. Russell S. VanderWilde, Dr. Khalid Shirzad, and Dr. Soren L. Olson dedicate their time and expertise to ensure all Gonzaga Athletes have the medical care they deserve.
It’s said in Spokane that everyone knows everyone else and we are all connected somehow. At Gonzaga, the NWOS connection started with Dr. Travis White, Dr. Robert Rutherford, and Dr. Bill Shanks. They have all been involved in the care of Gonzaga athletes. In 1994, Dr. Bill Shanks introduced Dr. Russ VanderWilde to members of the Gonzaga administration to help with game coverage. The meeting was with Dan Fitzgerald (who was both the athletic director and head men’s basketball coach) and Steve “Stevo” DeLong who was Gonzaga’s head (and only) athletic trainer.
After that meeting, Dr. VanderWilde partnered with Dr. Arnold Peterson to provide medical coverage and care for GU athletic teams, including basketball. Coverage was “on call” with Dr. VanderWilde and Dr. Peterson rotating call, but an enthusiastic Dr. VanderWilde attended games even when it was not his rotation.
Prior to the Zags “Cinderella Run” to the Elite 8 in 1999, tickets were just $7 and you could walk in off the street and get a ticket to most games. Dr. VanderWilde added, “My second seat often went unused as few were interested in GU basketball at that time.” Since 1999, Coach Mark Few has taken the Zags to the NCAA Tournament every season. Today most GU games are sold out, and available tickets to Gonzaga basketball games are rare. Most spectators are long-time season ticket holders or students who camp out waiting in line.
Attending games provided Dr. VanderWilde with many opportunities to help injured athletes as Stevo was busy juggling the trainer’s responsibilities, a job that is today covered by six athletic trainers. If a player was injured, they were often transported in the doctor’s private car, “I remember stuffing some of the larger players into my small wagon by pushing the front passenger seat all the way back into the back seat.” Off the court, Dr. VanderWilde has performed many surgeries on players when needed.
Partnering with several doctors helps with more than just sharing game coverage. Each provider has their own specialty; in 1998, Dr. Molly Gilbert joined as a primary care physician. For years Dr. VanderWilde was the only NWOS provider for Gonzaga Athletics until Dr. Shirzad was invited to become involved in 2010. Dr. Shirzad, a Gonzaga graduate, noted, “Graduating from Gonzaga in 1999, I’ve always been a fan, but now I had the opportunity to give something back.”
Working in tandem, the doctors alternate game and training room days where athletes from all programs, including cheer, are evaluated. During games, they’re trained to spot injuries both on and off the court. Dr. Shirzad noted, “We look at the way players are running and try to spot if someone is limping or holding their arm or hand. We then work to treat these injuries and return athletes as quickly as possible.” Both doctors agree, the most rewarding part of their job at Gonzaga is enabling athletes to perform at the highest level. None of this would be possible without the support from their families and business partners. Dr. VanderWilde and Dr. Shirzad both have families who share their passion for the Zags.
The NWOS team enthusiastically supports these doctors as they continue to make a difference in the Gonzaga athletics programs. We look forward to watching Gonzaga during the NCAA tournament. Keep an eye out for these doctors as they continue to help make a difference on and off the court.
Final Four 2017, Photographer Bracken Sorensen