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No need to call him Dr. Barber

Anyone who knows Dan Barber reasonably well knows he’s much more comfortable being addressed informally than with his new professional title — doctor. The certified athletic trainer at Hebron High School recently earned his doctorate in athletic training from Moravian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, but he’d still prefer you call him Dan. It just goes along with the personal approach he brings to his profession. “I think it’s a very intrinsic quality of most athletic trainers,” Barber said. “If you have those qualities, you’re going to be geared to this type of profession. Obviously, you have your own personal flair, but the biggest thing with us, particularly in the secondary setting, is developing interpersonal relationships where student-athletes feel comfortable and confident coming to you with whatever is going on, whatever they need help with. If you can’t help them, you direct them to a resource to deal with the issue, whether it’s psychological, physical.” It’s an approach that Barber learned back as a student at Chesterton High School under the tutelage of athletic trainer mentors Bernie and Kim Stento. “I wasn’t an athlete. I was more involved in the music department,” Barber said. “My sophomore year, Bernie taught my Health class. He made references to things he did at school, and I was like, this sounds kind of interesting. My junior year, I had an open elective, an Introduction To Athletic Training class, taught by Kim, and (I thought), let’s figure out what this is all about. I took that. I started helping them out after school, and by my senior year, you know what, this is what I want to do.” In addition to the nuts and bolts portion of his education, a big takeaway for Barber, who graduated from Chesterton in 2004, was that familial touch that the Stentos brought.

“The big thing with Kim and Bernie in particular, that really struck me the most was the kids called them mom and dad, it wasn’t Mrs. and Mr. Stento,” Barber said. “For me, it was an odd thing at first, but once you’re immersed in that kind culture, it’s, yeah, we are a giant family here. Building that kind of atmosphere in an athletic department is amazing. It’s primarily the interactions with people, helping people recover from pain and injury, but it’s just the general relationships you develop with coaches, athletes, colleagues, too.”

Barber, in his fifth year with Hebron, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Indianapolis in 2008, and worked ‘kind of all over the place’ before settling in as a Hawk. While he remains at Hebron, he transitioned to his new employer, Select Physical Therapy, which contracts athletic trainers with high schools, in August.

“I considered going back to grad school on and off throughout the course of my career, trying to figure out what to do to make myself more marketable in the profession,” he said. “Exercise science, business administration, that didn’t appeal to me too much. Then the national organization announced it was moving its entry level from a Bachelor’s to Master’s degree. With that came a whole new plethora of clinical skills and standards that I was not taught. There’s continuing education to get you up to speed. but I’m the type of person, with new skills, I do better in a formal educational settings to learn. All the programs started to pop up and I was like, you know what, I’m in my 30s, now’s the time. The program seems to work well.”

Most of Barber’s work was completed online, though he was brought out for a week in July for hands-on clinical skills.

“It’s a two-year program,” he said. “You’re supposed to do it. I did it once, obviously with COVID, and I took another course to make up for it. It’s a two-year cycle, so they’ll invite us to come back if we want to come back in two years, basically for free. The program continues to grow, and since now we’re graduates, next year, they’ll invite us back as instructors for the hands-on section.”

While Barber doesn’t see the Stentos as much as he did when he was a student, they remain friends and he still talks to them frequently.

“It’s very rewarding to see a former student advance his education to become the fullest professional he can be,” Bernie Stento said. “He is a great representative of our program and I’m proud to call him a colleague.”

Hebron Athletics Director John Steinhilber was relieved to be able to keep Barber on board after Community Hospital in Munster discontinued its program for providing athletic trainers to local high schools.

“Dan has done a great job of putting our athletes first since he has been here,” Steinhilber said. “He is one of the best trainers I have come into contact with. He is an asset to the MSD of Boone Township Schools.”

Kim Stento said Barber is among some 10, 12 former students who pursued careers in athletic training and many others who have gone into the health profession.

“Bernie and I are so proud of Dan,” she said. “He was always a hard worker and became invaluable to us as a student trainer almost immediately. We always knew he would go far. It is definitely something we are very proud of and excited about because we love what we do. Hebron is very lucky to have Dan. Not too many high school athletic trainers have their doctorate.”

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