'Dr. Love' reflects on 15-year career at RTHS

Mark Lovell worked as the head athletic trainer at Rochelle Township High School for 15 years. Lovell recently stepped down to take on a new career as an injury prevention specialist with Amazon. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Longtime head athletic trainer pursuing new career with Amazon

ROCHELLE — Throughout his 15-year career as the head athletic trainer at Rochelle Township High School, Mark Lovell would hang photos and newspaper clippings of student-athletes, many that he formed relationships with or helped recover from injuries, on a bulletin board inside his office.

Some of the student-athletes even signed their names on the photos, symbolizing one of the many ways in which Lovell connected with the student-athletes during his time at RTHS. As Lovell’s decade-and-a-half run as head athletic trainer came to a close last month, the artwork had been taken down from the bulletin board, but a stack of clippings still remained on his desk.

“It was a weird feeling to take everything down for the last time,” Lovell said. “I even had a ‘Hall of Fame’ of injuries from photos that kids gave me that I stuck on the refrigerator inside my office… As I took those down, I couldn’t believe that this was really coming to an end. I still have graduation invitations and announcements from kids who graduated roughly 10 years ago that I hung up as well. Looking through all of that stuff again, it was a very weird feeling for me.”

Lovell’s 15-year run at RTHS and Northern Rehab Physical Therapy Specialists concluded on May 28. He’s since started a new career with Amazon, working as an injury prevention specialist at the company’s fulfillment center in Beloit, Wisconsin. Lovell said he plans to continue living in Rockford with his wife Amanda, his 6-year-old daughter Cameron and his 4-year-old son Paxton.

“It’s hard to make the change, but I’m very thankful for all of the years I spent here,” Lovell said. “The kids have been so much fun to work with and they were very accepting of me and my personality. I like to hassle them and give them a hard time, but I always tried to make rehabbing injuries fun for them. The coaches here genuinely care about the kids and they’ve been great to work with. I loved my experience here and it wasn’t an easy choice to make.”

Lovell recalled several fond memories as both an athletic trainer and a spectator during his time at RTHS. Some of his favorite memories include watching the Rochelle Hub varsity football team snap Geneva’s 24-game home winning streak during the ‘Mud Bowl’ back in 2009. Lovell also enjoyed seeing the football team knock off previously unbeaten Johnsburg in the second round of the IHSA 4A Playoffs in 2017.

During Lovell’s second day as the RTHS athletic trainer in 2007, he was forced to bring out a spine board for an injured football player, who Lovell rode with on a helicopter as they were airlifted to a nearby hospital in Rockford. It was during that same summer that Lovell earned the nickname ‘Dr. Love’, a nickname that remained with him throughout his entire tenure at RTHS.  

“I was 23 years old when I first started working here,” Lovell said. “My first day, there was a kid who was bleeding and when I went to help him, he asked me what my name was and I said my name was Mark. He wanted to know my last name and when he called me Mr. Lovell, it was an odd feeling because nobody had ever called me Mr. Lovell before. That same summer, a kid named Dan Ruppenthal, who was the sophomore fullback, called out to me and said, ‘Dr. Love!’ I looked over and asked what he needed and when the other kids acknowledged that, they started calling me ‘Dr. Love’. The kids spread it around from there and now pretty much anyone will call me ‘Dr. Love’ which is funny because I’m not a doctor and my last name isn’t Love."

Lovell’s interest in becoming an athletic trainer originated when he was a student-athlete at Joliet Central High School. Lovell, who grew up in the small village of Elwood and played basketball before eventually joining the volleyball team, suffered a dislocated shoulder while diving on the floor for a ball during his senior season. After visiting the emergency room, Lovell completed three weeks of physical therapy before returning to finish his senior season.

“The basketball coaches were telling me that I should play volleyball during the spring,” Lovell said. “When I dislocated my shoulder, I was told in the ER that my season was over, but when I went to the orthopedic facility, they told me to do physical therapy and see where I was in three weeks. The doctors said there was a 90-percent chance my shoulder would come out again, but it was my senior year, so I went back out there and I made it through my senior season.”

Lovell graduated from Joliet Central in 2001. He then attended Western Illinois University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 2005 before continuing on as a graduate assistant and securing his master’s degree in community health education in 2007. As a graduate student at Western Illinois, Lovell worked with several of the university’s athletic programs including the football, baseball, soccer, tennis and swimming and diving teams.

“Western Illinois was affordable and it was close to home, but far enough to where I felt some independence,” Lovell said. “We had a lot more freedom as students back then and I loved the ability to go out there and have that sense of freedom. My graduate assistant position prepared me a lot more than being an undergraduate student did because I worked directly under the head athletic trainer, Mike Pendergast, for two years. I covered my first college football game as a graduate assistant and it prepared me a lot because it was a bigger stage for me to sink or swim. We traveled a lot throughout my time as a graduate assistant and I was able to visit some bigger schools like Wisconsin, Nebraska and Kansas and check out all of their facilities.”

It was through Western Illinois where Lovell made his initial connection with RTHS. While Lovell was an undergrad, he formed a brief relationship with Rob Neighbors, who was a graduate assistant at the time before eventually becoming the head athletic trainer at RTHS. When Lovell became a graduate assistant, an opportunity was presented to replace Neighbors at RTHS.

“When Rob made his decision to move on, he reached out to the head athletic trainer at Western,” Lovell said. “I was working football as a graduate assistant during that time and the head athletic trainer printed out the email and said Rob had nothing but good things to say about Rochelle. I reached out to [Kevin] Crandall and he was the one who ultimately hired me.”

Lovell said he’s received several phone calls from former RTHS student-athletes, including some who graduated several years ago or don’t live in the state anymore, since the news of his departure surfaced last month. He said that working in Rochelle reminded him of the small-town atmosphere he knew from growing up in Elwood. Lovell said he’ll continue to be around and stay active in the Rochelle community as he moves forward with his new career with Amazon.

“I appreciate the small-town feel that Rochelle has and I think there are great people inside and outside of the school,” Lovell said. “I never felt looked down upon and I always felt accepted here, not only from the school but from the community. I still interact with families whose kids have been out of high school for years. It’s always cool to learn what the kids are doing after high school and it’s cool to see the closeness of the community and see how the kids grow up. The continued connections I’ve made throughout the years are probably one of the best things about Rochelle. I’m a talker and there are a lot of folks here who’re still eager to talk to me.”