Standing in the center of the court Sunday at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center, J.J. Bush gazed at the sea of red T-shirts. An arena full of men’s basketball fans were standing and cheering—but not for a three-pointer or a quick rebound.
They were clapping for him.
For nearly 40 years, the University Park resident has been an athletic trainer at UMd. He’s been there long enough to work for eight athletic directors, five presidents, and generation after generation of athletes.
On June 30, he'll bring a close to that career, stepping down from his current post as assistant to the athletic director.
“Forty years is long enough to do anything,” he said. “If everybody had a career like I did, I don’t think anyone would ever retire.”
Especially someone who is so rooted in the community. He’s worked with many Terp teams: wrestling, football, but primarily men’s basketball.
“July 1972: I packed up all my stuff in the backseat of a car, drove up here and haven’t left,” Bush said.
At the time, the Vietnam War was just ending. Bush had narrowly missed deployment overseas and was coming home from airborne and ranger school in Hawaii when he decided to make an impromptu visit to an old boss. A Florida State University alumnus, Bush was a student athletic trainer during his days in Tallahassee.
“In June I get a call from him: ‘You still want to be an athletic trainer? Call a friend of mine in Maryland.’”
Bush has served as the “first responder to an injury” ever since. When point guard Nick Faust fell at Sunday’s basketball game, Bush immediately cared for him on the Comcast Center floor. Because Pe'Shon Howard tore his ACL, leaving him out for the season, Bush works with the point guard in rehab.
At the office, trainers tend to student athletes. Has this one’s knee healed? Does that one need treatment? Their bodies are fighting to meet the grueling demands of Division I athletics, and they need help.
“It’s just the way it is,” Bush said. “We stay busy all the time.”
On a cabinet behind his desk are testaments to a fulfilling career. There’s a 2004 Terrapins men’s basketball ACC Championship trophy, a NCAA Final Four trophy and a 2002 National Championship picture with fake "cousin" President George W. Bush, among others.
“I’m working about 60 hours a week now,” he said. “Even though I’ve worked 40 years, it’s probably about 75 years or 60 years—who knows, who’s keeping track?”
But that doesn’t mean working seven days a week—seeing his two boys one hour per day when his wife would drop them off at a Terps football practice—hasn’t been taxing.
“It takes a toll,” he said. “I miss most of the holidays: Christmas, New Year’s, spring break.”
His wife, Gina, and sons Brandon and Jordan have supported him.
Gina and Jordan were there on Sunday, the last home Terps basketball game Bush will ever work. While a video montage played on the screens of Comcast Center, and as students and locals rose during the halftime show to salute to Bush’s 40 years, they stood holding his hand in the middle of the court.
“I’ll just say this,” said head athletic trainer Sandy Worth, who has worked with Bush for almost 40 years. “It’ll be different. It’ll be different without him here.”
Valerie Cothran said she’s known Bush in two capacities: as a student athlete on the university’s track team and as a colleague.
“As a student, I thought he was a nice, personable person. He’d always say hello to people, even if he wasn’t your athletic trainer,” said Cothran, who is now an assistant team physician. “And it’s the same now.”
But come June 30, he’ll have some time to himself: to fish, to work on his lengthy “honey-do list” and—well, he’s not sure what else.
“I have a lot of friends in the area. I don’t know,” he said. “Ask me in about three years. Maybe I can answer that question better then.”