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Sep 07, 2021

That’s a winner: Rock Valley and LumberKings form top-notch Prospect League partnership

 It was a season of success for the Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, they of the Prospect League, a summer outlet for the nation’s top college baseball players.

And Rock Valley Physical Therapy was an integral part of that success, providing the club’s training and physical therapy/injury assessment.

“This past season erased the doubt and apprehension we had as an organization as to whether or not this new venture would be embraced,’’ said Ted Tornow, the longtime Clinton general manager, sharing his thoughts on the transition from affiliated minor league baseball to a college-prospect entity. Tornow just completed his 38th season as a baseball executive.

“One of those apprehensions was how things —  having someone on hand in case of injury or general care of our players — was managed since we are college-affiliated,’’ added Tornow. “But our relationship with Rock Valley Physical Therapy erased all that doubt.  Great care, thanks to RVPT, was provided for the players. We benefited from it and want to make sure 2022 is circled on the calendar for both sides. I cannot say enough about Rock Valley Physical Therapy.’’

The LumberKings, managed by Mount Mercy College (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) head coach Jack Dahm, the former head coach at Iowa and Creighton universities, respectively, won the league’s Great River Division, made the Prospect League playoffs and paced the 16-team league with an average attendance of 2,329 per opening.

“On the field we had a couple of bumps in the road, but having a guy like Jack — who really held things together — made a huge difference down the stretch,’’ Tornow said. “It was great to see that improvement.’’

When Prospect League powers-to-be said each club would need to supply in-game medical staff, Tornow called on an old friend to guide him into the unknown. He needed help in an area that was outside his expertise and comfort level.

“The ball started rolling with a call to (Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s) Gary Vande Kamp,’’ Tornow said. “We have a long-time relationship and I really trust him. He led me to Rock Valley’s Debbie Healy (PT, MBA, OCS, Vice-President Growth and Development) and she made things come to life.’’

Vande Kamp (Clinic Manager/Senior Physical Therapist),  Mike Sullens (Level II Physical Therapy Assistant), and Chelsey Ferguson (PT, DPT, Level I Physical Therapist), were called on to guide the LumberKings throughout the campaign. The trio would work game/injury assessment, prevention and care guidelines for all Prospect League players playing in Clinton.

“Gary knows Ted and knows I’m passionate about sports and that I work with a local (high) school and reached out to me,’’ Ferguson said of how her involvement with the LumberKings came to pass. “Between Mike, Gary, and myself, we worked all of the home games.’’

For Ferguson, a standout volleyball player at Mt. Carroll High School in her playing days, the LumberKings’ experience was the perfect situation and a victory for all involved.

“Once the players knew what I could help them with, they were open to coming to ask for help and see what else we could do for them,’’ said Ferguson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in exercise science and doctorate in physical therapy from Waukesha, Wisconsin-based Carroll University. “They were a great group of guys to work with and open to any input.’’

Already a baseball fan, Ferguson says spending the summer with the LumberKings will have her paying closer attention to baseball at the collegiate level. The names, she says, are now familiar.

“Baseball is one of my favorite sports and I love watching the games,’’ said Ferguson, who also handles sideline assessment for (Lanark, Ill.) Eastland High School football. Ferguson is also a successful high school and club-level volleyball coach. “I loved getting to know the players and watching their journey. I’ll pay attention more to college ball and see if I can catch any of them playing.’’

Working football at the high school level, Ferguson encounters her share of injuries. Though baseball is a non-contact sport, it has its share of bumps, bruises, strains and pains.

“I’m used to seeing injuries on the football field, but that is a contact sport,’’ Ferguson said. “I wasn’t expecting to see as many contact injuries, but I did have an opposing player trip over his helmet running to second and sublux his shoulder. That was a first for me.’’

The experience also came with satisfying a guilty pleasure on nights Ferguson covered the LumberKings.

 “You have to have at least one hotdog when you go to a ball game,’’ she said with a smile.

By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller