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Pagel takes over Head Athletic Trainer position at MLC

NEW ULM — The 2020-21 school year saw a significant staffing change in the Martin Luther College athletic department with Max Pagel taking over as Head Athletic Trainer.

Pagel replaced Marcus Hopp, who left the position after 20 years (2000-20).

Pagel served as Hopp’s assistant athletic trainer at the college the last four years (2016-19), working with the soccer and cross-country teams in the fall sports season, while Hopp worked with the other 12 varsity sports over the course of the year. Pagel also worked at several area high schools as part of his contract with New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC), including Minnesota Valley Lutheran (MVL).

“I would have probably felt more reservations if it were at another school,” Pagel said, “but being the assistant trainer at MLC the last four years made me more comfortable since I have already been working with (MLC Director of Athletics) Jim Unke, the various coaching staffs, and the athletic department. I hope to continue to build those relationships I started four years ago.”

The transition was made more difficult this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Pagel and Unke to change the normal protocols and job duties.

Due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic (only eight people allowed in the training room at one time), Pagel will work from the MLC training room exclusively throughout the fall as all eight traditional fall sports practice. During the day, he will provide rehab, treatment, and perform injury evaluations, which will allow him to use the time before practices strictly for taping, temperature checks, and COVID-19 screening questions. Under normal circumstances, Pagel works out of the NUMC during the day as part of his contract with the hospital, and would come to MLC at 2:45 p.m. as athletes get ready for practice.

The results through the first three weeks have been positive.

“Practices are going well so far,” Pagel said. “This isn’t a typical year by any means, so everyone is taking the precautions necessary to keep everyone safe. That includes coaches wearing masks at practice, athletes wearing masks in the training room and out in the practice fields/court if they are not participating, and only doing rehab/treatment in the morning. We hope to continue what we have done so far and maintain the health and safety of everyone involved here at MLC.”

Pagel was instrumental in organizing the new protocols for the care of athletes during the pandemic, and Unke has been impressed with his work during a tumultuous time.

“We were sad when Marcus decided to move on, but also very excited to have someone as gifted and qualified as Max to take over,” Unke said. “His work in helping us navigate a very difficult situation has been tremendous, and we’re looking forward to the things Max can do for us as we move forward.”

After 20 years at MLC working long nights and weekends, Hopp’s decision to leave the school came in an effort to spend more time with his family. His oldest daughter (Ramsey) started eighth grade this fall, while his twin sons (Mitchell and Levi) entered sixth grade. This year, Hopp became the Head Athletic Trainer at New Ulm High School, on top of his other duties at the NUMC.

“It was a very tough decision to move away from a job I loved at MLC,” Hopp said, “but spending time with my family and maintaining a better work/life balance was the deciding factor. I thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone in the athletic department, coaches, and student-athletes during my 20 years in that job and will definitely miss working with many of those people on a daily basis.

“I especially want to thank Jim Unke,” Hopp said, “for his professionalism, work ethic, and support for me during my time there.”

Hopp hired Pagel to the NUMC team originally and, after working with him the last four years, believes he’s ready for his new role.

“Max is a tremendous worker,” Hopp said. “I have no doubts that he will continue to build on what is already in place, and the college is in great hands going forward with someone of his caliber leading the way.”

Pagel is grateful for the endorsement.

“I cannot thank Marcus enough to not only give me an opportunity to work at the NUMC, but also recommend me for the position here as Head Athletic Trainer at MLC,” Pagel said. “I know it wasn’t easy for him to step away from the college, but he will always be a well-known figure at MLC. Everyone knows Marcus, and he’ll continue to stop in every now and then to see how things are going. I just hope to continue the tradition of excellent care here that he started 20 years ago. I know it’s a daunting task, but I am up for the challenge.”

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