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Tenured physicians announce retirement

By LAURA MYERS | Thursday, March 3, 2011

Drs. Willard Yergler and David Bankoff both wear National Championship rings from Notre Dame’s defeat of West Virginia on Jan. 2, 1989.

The two have worked with the Irish football program as team doctors since 1974 and 1981, respectively, and announced their retirements earlier this month.

Drs. Chris Balint and Brian Ratigan will replace them. All four doctors work at South Bend Orthopaedics (SBO), which has had a relationship with Notre Dame athletics since 1948, when founder Leslie Bodnar started working with Irish athletes.

As orthopedic surgeons, Yergler and Bankoff dealt with broken bones and other athletic injuries. Their time spent at practice and games was volunteered.

“We don’t get paid for all these hours and hours,” Yergler said. “We do it because we enjoy taking care of the teams.”

During his time with the team, Yergler said he’d dealt with many injuries, including a broken wrist that he had to operate on while the team was still in Florida after a New Year’s Eve bowl.

“No injury’s crazy,” he said.

The two also interacted with student athletic trainers during games, and allowed interested students to shadow them. Senior trainer Amber Rosenberg shadowed Bankoff at SBO.

“The first surgery I ever saw was a knee replacement with Dr. Bankoff,” she said, “and he didn’t laugh at me when I got woozy at the smell!”

Yergler sponsors a scholarship given to one student trainer each year.

“I’ve learned through observation about what I want out of my career,” Rosenberg said. “Obviously, they are both very hard working and accomplished individuals and I have been able to take what I know about their lives and careers and apply them in my own life goals.”

Yergler, whose first season with the team was Ara Parsegian’s last, worked with eight coaches during his tenure and was on the sidelines for 430 games. None were more memorable than the 1988 championship, he said.

“We celebrate with the team,” he said. “We’re with the team, and we enjoy working with them, and we celebrate with them.”

Bankoff, whom Yergler brought into the athletic program during the Gerry Faust era, remembered the game before the national championship, a 27-10 defeat of No. 2 USC, as his favorite.

“We just pounded them,” he said. “We just destroyed them.”

Of course, they also witnessed some bad times along with the good.

“Gerry Faust’s last game, the Orange Bowl, 55-7 — we just got shellacked,” Bankoff said. “It was embarrassing.”

The two started the transition towards retirement two years ago. Bankoff said he told Irish coach Brian Kelly about the doctors’ impending retirements during one of their first meetings. He said Kelly tried to convince him to stay on a bit longer.

 “My wife and kids always asked when I was going to retire, and I said when we win another national championship,” Bankoff said. “I told that to Coach Kelly, and he said, ‘I’ll come to your retirement party. We’ll win one soon.”