Dr. Gill’s last ride: The end of an era
When the 2015 varsity football season came to an end two weeks ago, it would prove the last hoorah for not only the Bluejay seniors, but the last “ride” for Dr. Greg Gill. The night marked the end to Gill’s career, spanning three decades, as the team’s volunteer physician.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I walk away, but sometimes when the heart says go and the brain says ‘it’s time’, then its time,” Gill said. “It’s been a heck of a ride.”
The seasoned veteran’s passion for sports dates back a few more years, to the playing fields of Wisconsin Rapids-Lincoln High School, where Gill played linebacker for the then Red Raiders. It was during that time Gill had his first experience with Merrill football.
“I loved playing the game!” he adds. “Apparently so did they (Merrill), boy were they good! Back when I played, we were in the old Wisconsin Valley Conference. Merrill was good every year and they slapped us around pretty good every year.”
Following high school, Gill moved on to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Microbiology. While fulfilling a family practice residency in Appleton, Gill was given his first opportunity to work in sports medicine.
“It just so happened Sports Medicine was part of the family practice where I was a resident,” he adds. “The program director was the team physician for the Appleton-West football team and allowed the residents to begin covering the games if we were interested. It was really something.
“I still remember my first football game as a resident and it was almost as fun as being out there playing all over again. That energy…. and feeling of a Friday night came right back and I just loved it! I loved being out there with the kids and the coaches and also being a part of something new. Back in those days, the whole idea of a team doctor was brand new, not many schools had one.”
Gill graduated medical school in 1982, and just four years later he and his wife Kathy (Krohn-Gill) received an opportunity neither could resist.
“Kathy had built a strong relationship with a group of doctors in Merrill who ran the Family Medical Clinic,” Gill explains. “They happened to be looking for two physicians and offered us those open positions. And well, like I said before, I knew Merrill well from my football days. And after having a taste of being a team doc down in Appleton, I knew it was something I wanted to do. It had become a passion and a dream of mine. So when the opportunity came in Merrill, of course I accepted! We enjoyed spending time in Minocqua too, so it was a great fit for us all around.”
Once settled in, in early 1986, it wasn’t long before Gill got in touch with Bluejay football coach Greg Schofield.
“I just called him up one day and asked if he was interested in having a volunteer team physician. He liked the idea right away, as most coaches did. Back when they didn’t have team doctors or athletic trainers, it was up to the coaches to make medical calls on the kids’ welfare. But by having a doctor or trainer aboard, that responsibility was off their shoulders.
“Greg and I hit it off from the start, he was a great coach and a great guy! I met with the coaching staff at what was then Merrill Senior High and is now Prairie River Middle School. My first season was in 1986.”
Even though picking a few memories over a span of 30 years could possibly takes hours or even days, Gill immediately mentions the evening of Oct, 19, 1989 as his smile fades and his voice suddenly takes a very quiet and somber tone.
“I’ll never forget that night and I’ll never forget the exact date, because it was my mother’s birthday,” the doctor explains. “Merrill had not been in the playoffs for a long time and that night we were playing Rhinelander. The winner would get into the playoffs so the stakes were high, it was a tough game. Then early in the third, coach Dave Arneson comes down to me and says, ‘Something is wrong with coach Schofield.’
“So I follow Dave and when I get to Greg, I see the right side of his face is dropping and his right arm was just hanging at his side. He said to me….. ‘I can’t feel my right arm Greg,’ and then he collapsed on me.
“I proceeded to assist him to the ground and being the ambulance was already at the game, he was immediately transported to Good Samaritan and then on to St. Joes in Marshfield for treatment.
“As it turned out that night, a whole team of young men found themselves more concerned about their coach than the game. We lost the game that night.”
Other more fond memories of Dr. Gill’s include playing at the Metrodome and being on the sidelines for games at the very same area fields he had once played on.
“One of the nicest things about playing in the old ‘Valley and the GNC was having every game close enough that I could attend, unless I was on call. It was great being out there with the team every year, experiencing the highs and lows with the kids. The homecoming games, the tough losses. Like I said before, I felt that same familiar energy of a fall Friday night. Right about 5 p.m. on Fridays, you just couldn’t help but get a little amped up from the atmosphere. It was Merrill football!” he adds with a chuckle. “Some games re-hashed some memories of my own being I had played on many of those very same fields!”
One homecoming game in particular, Gill recalls involved a Bluejay running back who suffered a severe laceration from his forearm to his elbow.
“It was one of those times I really felt I served a purpose, you know,” he said. “Back in the days when there wasn’t a team physician on the sidelines, that young man probably would have been sent off to the emergency room for evaluation. But not that night!
“It was a close game and he really wanted to get back in there. So, I took him to the locker room, numbed him arm, bandaged and wrapped him up and got him back out there.
“He ended up running for a pile of yards, I think around 200 or so and we won that night. That was a great feeling to know I was able to help him and get him back on the field.”
When asked of how his role has evolved over his career, the same warm smile returns.
“There really is no need for a team doctor anymore, not in the role I was in anyway,” he said. “The advancement of medical science, especially in sports medicine and the real emergence of athletic trainers has been the biggest change. Our trainer Anthony Gerlach is just amazing. He is so great at what he does. He brings a skill set that I never had such as proper wrapping techniques, treatment and rehab techniques for the kids. I have been more of a second-opinion when he needs it but have also learned a lot from him.”
Gill also lists the same reasoning as a factor in his retirement from the sideline.
“With Anthony’s expertise, there’s not really a need for me anymore. Back in ‘86 I was a unique entity, but that’s just not the case now. The science of it has come so far, which is great. I have been more of a second opinion and a familiar face which was fine. But I’ll also admit, I have kinda lost the energy and enthusiasm after 30 years. That Friday night feeling just isn’t as strong anymore.
“I have no regrets and I loved every minute of the last 30 years. My experience was also a ‘practice builder’ for me too. I had so many players and teachers, and children of players and teachers become patients later on. I delivered their babies, treated their aches and pains and everything in between. Parents seemed more comfortable when I was on the sideline and had confidence in me. That is something I’ll never forget.
“It’s been a wonderfully positive experience,” Gill adds.
As for the future, Dr. Gill smiles once again.
“Just because I am retiring as the team doc doesn’t mean I am retiring from Merrill football and if I come to a game I sure won’t be sitting in the stands. If I happen to be on the sideline and someone needs an opinion or a second look, I’ll be right there for them.”
Note: Dr. Greg Gill’s medical practice will continue at the Marshfield Clinic of Merrill, where he recently celebrated his 20th year of family practice.