Neal Hazen’s 31 year career as an athletic trainer has been shaped by a rule that led him to a statewide honor Sunday.

Hazen, a Ball State alumni and current head athletic trainer, was inducted into the Indiana Athletic Trainers Association (IATA) Hall of Fame on Nov 5. He graduated with a physical therapy degree in 1986, the last year Ball State offered the degree as an undergraduate program.

Hazen follows the golden rule when it comes to working with athletes and other trainers-- treat others the way you want to be treated. In a field where treating people is the focus, Hazen says the rule has served him well.

“If you can keep that in mind and instill that in the new young professionals, it gets them off to such a good start,” Hazen said. “Because as much as you know, you start to realize there’s a lot more you don’t know. But if you treat people the right way, it goes a long way.”

Hazen worked in Fort Wayne right after graduation, but said the family atmosphere of Ball State brought him back.

“[The atmosphere] was here when I was here as a student and it was a big selling point to me and a big point of what I’ve tried to keep going and our staff has kept going as a team through all of our years here,” Hazen said.

He was involved in sports in high school and college but saw an opportunity to continue his involvement in sports through sports medicine. Hazen was the assistant athletic trainer from 1987 to 1996 before becoming head athletic trainer. Hazen said there have been a variety of personalities, students, faculty and staff throughout the years.

“I think just the culmination of everybody I’ve had the opportunity to work with … I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to learn from so many people,” Hazen said. “Every day I think is a learning opportunity, and I always try to keep that in mind. If you take advantage of those opportunities, it’s amazing the things that you take away.”

Hazen said he wishes he did more patient care, but still works daily with Ball State’s 19 teams made up of over 400 student-athletes. He’s seen a monumental change in athletic training, as the medical and legal aspect is a lot bigger now, while patient care was a bigger focus in the past.

“We all evolve,” Hazen said. “None of us are the same person, the same athletic trainer today that we were a year ago or even a month ago for that matter … it’s just hard to imagine three decades of being blessed to be in this profession.”

Hazen was nominated for the award by assistant athletic trainer Troy Hershman, who said Ball State has the most alumni or people connected to the athletic training program in the IATA Hall of Fame. Hazen was working at Ball State when Hershman was a student. His earliest memory was meeting Hazen at a football practice 

“Being the physical therapist, he was spending more time with patients,” Hershman said. “So if you really wanted to learn something, if you were smart, you hung out with Neal. You would learn stuff from Neal cause he would have more time for you [than some of the other trainers.]”

Hershman graduated from Ball State in 1992 and joined the staff in 2007. He saw the opportunity as a way to give back and also saw the family atmosphere in the program. Hershman said Hazen is highly respected in the program.

“We respect his decisions that he has to make … they’re not always easy decisions sometimes, but I think the mutual respect back to us as professionals and the mentorship he provides our younger staff is really what makes this whole deal really, really special,” Hershman said.

Senior athletic training major Fabian Munoz described Hazen as funny and someone who brings life into a room.

“The first time I ever met him, I was intimidated just by his title and immediately, it was like a breath of fresh air almost because of his personality and how nice he was,” Munoz said. “Working with him and being around him is awesome. He always has good insight and always is complementing and/or giving me tips and tricks on how to better myself as a student and clinician.”

Contact Michelle Kaufman with comments at mekaufman@bsu.edu.