From the notebooks of Greg Fruth: Dr. James Hartson, only steps away

Greg Fruth, a self-described “Slicer football pack rat” and a retired La Porte High School teacher, has compiled a series of stories gleaned from countless hours of research. He shares his love for LPHS football with WNLP readers by allowing us to post his collection. Below, an article with photos from Greg Fruth in 2011, is the sixth in the series.

Faster, stronger, better — and harder hitters!

Today’s high school football game is so much different from even 20 or 30 years ago. Look at a starting lineup in the 1930s and 1940s. Slicer Hall of Fame Dale Rose of the 1941 Slicers was 6’2” and 214, the largest of the Slicers. Up until the late 1960s, linemen of even 150-180 pounds were not uncommon. A Chicago newspaper featured the 1966 Slicer football team as one of the biggest in the Chicago land area; the Slicer offensive line averaged 215 pounds. Today’s running backs and linebackers often weigh 215, and 300 pound high school linemen are not uncommon.

The season for today’s gridders begins shortly after the last game: running, conditioning, and lifting weights. Bigger athletes lifting weights create even bigger athletes. Better diets. Better coaching. Better game-day preparation. Better equipment. All these factors contribute to a faster, harder hitting high school game. Today’s fans witness hits never seen 20 or 30 years ago.

So too has the role of the team physician taken on a more active role. Team doctors take care of players at the game and throughout the week. Doctors strive to make the athletes’ participation safer.

Slicer football has long been blessed with committed team physicians. In fact, three former Slicer physicians have been inducted into the Slicer Football Hall of Fame. William “Bo” Martin was a three-year starter at center (1922-1924) who, after graduating from medical school, returned to La Porte to practice medicine for over 30 years. As far as we know, Dr. Martin was the first Slicer football team physician. (By the way, Bo weighed 145 as a sophomore starter and around 160 as a senior player.) Dr. Martin was inducted into the SFA in 1993. Dr. Carl Fischer (SFA Hall of Fame, 1987) and Dr. John Smith (SFA Hall of Fame, 1992) walked the sidelines of Friday night games. Since Dr. Martin returned to La Porte, the Slicers have been blessed to have team physicians.

Today, Dr. James Hartson, an orthopedic surgeon, is the Slicer team physician.

Dr. Hartson grew up in football-rich Ohio, where he was his high school’s quarterback. Football has always been in his blood.

Dr. Hartson earned a bachelor of science degree in 1984 from Michigan State University. In 1988 he earned his doctorate degree in pediatric medicine at the William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine in Chicago. After earning a degree in orthopedics from Indiana University in 1995, Dr. Hartson completed his residency at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio in 1999. The first recipient of the La Porte Hospital Foundation Robert W. Kepler Scholarship, Dr. Hartson has returned to La Porte, where he is employed by Indiana University Health La Porte Physicians. His office, Bone & Joint Institute, is located in Michigan City.

Dr. Hartson doesn’t just show up for the Friday night football games. He comes to the junior-varsity and freshman games, and he comes to 80% of the practices. He attends all of the Slicer away games; many teams’ physicians attend only home games. A few years ago, one of the Slicer defensive backs cut his hand on a helmet during a practice. Dr. Hartson took the player into the stadium, sewed him up, and the player was back on the practice field in no time.

Today’s electronics make contacting Dr. Hartson so easy. If Dr. Hartson isn’t at practice, he’s only a cell phone call away.

Head Coach Bob Schellinger says having Dr. Hartson so accessible “speeds it [treating players] up so much. Having him on the field is a great plus.”

Having a doctor who played football is another great benefit. Football is a game of injuries and nagging conditions, many of which can be dealt with without missing practices and games. A physician who has played the game understands this aspect of football. Dr. Hartson’s son, Kyle, broke his collar bone in last year’s game versus Michigan City. Under Dr. Hartson’s care, the Slicer quarterback was back for the Slicers game against Elkhart Memorial. Says Schellinger, “Doc did what it took to get the kid healthy.”

Injured players have the advantage of seeing Dr. Hartson at his office without waiting days for an appointment. Again, Dr. Hartson “speeds it up.”

For an athlete to join Slicer practices, he must have a physical. Despite having warned to have this physical, every year a few players show up at the first practice without a physical. Dr. Hartson has taken those athletes into the dressing room and given them physicals.

Before having full-time trainers, coaches taped players before practices and games. Today’s training staffs are another medical benefit for the game. Professional and student trainers take a lot of pressure off coaches, trainers remove the liability from coaches’ shoulders, and they offer professional help. Dr. Hartson works with the Slicer student trainers, recommending treatments and serving as a mentor.

Hanging around Kiwanis Football Stadium as much as Dr. Hartson does has bonded friendships. “They’re more than coaches. They’re some of my closest friends,” he says. Dr. Hartson, Coach Bob Schellinger and his staff, and Bob Snyder, field caretaker, do socialize off the field. For quite a few years, this Slicer team has gone to Myrtle Beach in June for a week of golf. Dr. Hartson is more than a team physician. Ask any football coach and he’ll tell you Dr. Hartson is truly a part of the Slicer coaching staff.

A physician, a mentor, a friend, and a fan — Dr. Hartson simply loves football, especially Orange and Black football.

Yes, the game has changed. Yes, the players are faster, stronger, better — and harder hitters! Yes, today’s fans witness hits not seen 20 or 30 years ago. Yet, the Slicer football family can be assured that Slicer players have solid medical care; Dr. Hartson is only steps away.

4 Responses to “From the notebooks of Greg Fruth: Dr. James Hartson, only steps away”

  1. Rory Lee Swan

    Jun 17. 2020

    Was the John Smith, MD referenced the one who would have graduated 1975? If so, he was on the field when I was injured; left knee dislocation and 3 of the ligaments torn away. Dr. Mueller was on the field that night and Dr. Mladick did the reconstruction and repair.

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    • Staff

      Jun 17. 2020

      Dr. Smith’s son graduated in 1975.

      Reply to this comment
      • Ii

        Jun 18. 2020

        I would like to mention Dr Ed Mueller S.F.A hall of fame doctor, former Slicer athlete, strong Slicer booster for all sports.1965 to 1980 not sure but he served between Dr Fischer and Dr Smith for many years. Big I.U. Supporter! Keep up the good work

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  2. john zakes

    Jun 17. 2020

    I remember when Dr. Fisher made a ”house call” to our home to treat my sister. I believe 1960 maybe? nice man. was our family doc until his untimely passing. thanks for story Greg.

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