Congratulations to Dr. Joe Congeni, MD, FAAP, medical director of pediatric sports medicine, for being named the recipient of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF) Thomas E. Shaffer Award. The annual award recognizes an individual for lifelong contributions in the field of sports medicine through displays of leadership and vision, quality presentations and published documents.
The ultimate sports fanatic (he started reading the sports page at 4 years old) and high school basketball player says he was drawn to the field of sports medicine when it was still in its infancy and attributes his career in some ways to good timing.
“During medical school the tide was changing from taking care of people with chronic illness and shifting toward prevention,” he said. “At the time of my residency adolescent medicine was a new specialty and sports medicine was an offshoot of it. The hospital was just beginning to form a sports medicine center and we were given a lot of leeway to make the program our own.”
Because he was one of the firsts in his field, Dr. Congeni has had many opportunities to teach and speak both locally and nationally helping to inform research and advocate for policy changes.
“Instead of only affecting the 20 patients I see in my office in one day, I have the opportunity to affect 20,000 athletes when it comes to how we treat concussions or helping advocate for rule changes to football – like making sure players are wearing the appropriate protective gear – to enforcing pitch counts in baseball,” he said. “The goal is to keep athletes safe and prevent injuries – including those that result from overuse.”
A fan of non-mainstream sports like lacrosse, boys’ volleyball, and bowling, Dr. Congeni says these sports allow kids to pursue new avenues in addition to traditional sports, giving them opportunities to get involved and be part of a team while also staying active.
“One of the things I like most about sports is the great life lessons they can teach kids,” he said.
In 1991, Dr. Congeni started the second pediatric sports medicine fellowship in the country and served as its director until 2005.
He has been the longstanding team physician for Archbishop Hoban High School and the University of Akron. For 17 years he also helped coach his 6 kids’ various sports teams.
“I learned more about the specifics and mechanics of sports injuries through those 17 years of coaching on the field than I probably did in my practice,” he said.
Serving as the Sports Medicine Center’s director for the past 30 years, Dr. Congeni is proud of the partnerships he and the hospital have built with local school districts allowing Akron Children’s athletic trainers to provide education and care to high school athletes.
“The fact that we can bring sports medicine to everyone is one of my proudest achievements – from serving both the urban and rural populations – we give them the same treatment we would give a pro athlete,” he said. “And, the fact that the kids are so grateful makes it all worthwhile.”
Dr. Congeni says if he hadn’t become a physician, he likely would have been a coach or sports announcer. Although you may not hear his voice over the loud speaker calling games, he has been a regular contributor on the Ray Horner radio show, sharing his opinions on timely topics as they relate to sports medicine.
In November, Dr. Congeni will receive the Shaffer award at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando.
“While I am very appreciative of this award, I also want to shine the light on Akron Children’s,” he said. “Our hospital leaders were the visionaries who gave us the ability to make this program possible and grow it into what it is today.”