Greg Hansen: After 33 years in 'dream job,' Dr. Don Porter — a UA staple — is retiring – Arizona Daily Star

Dr. Don Porter
As a young doctor, Don Porter would sometimes perform a circumcision at 8 a.m., move to the intensive care unit at 8:30, and visit with a cardiac care patient before 9.
“I did pretty much everything except deliver babies,” he says.
After six years, Porter left his position as chief of staff of Tucson’s CIGNA health care operation, becoming the head team physician for the UA athletic department. His colleagues wished him well.
“Let us know when you want to be a real doctor again,” they said with a laugh.
On July 5, 1989, the former basketball standout at Rincon High School, Class of ’71, walked into McKale Center to begin a new challenge. No one was laughing.
“The third or fourth patient I saw that day, my first day on the job, was Kevin Singleton, the great linebacker,” Porter says, shaking his head at the memory. “He had a sore throat and a boil under his arm.” Singleton also had bleeding gums and a fever.
Porter correctly diagnosed Singleton with leukemia.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I didn’t think this would be easy, but I wasn’t expecting that on the first day,” Porter says now. (After a bone marrow transplant and months in the hospital, Singleton recovered and returned to Arizona’s lineup a year later.)
Wednesday afternoon, his last day on the job, Porter was sitting a few yards away from the basketball court at McKale Center. He is retiring after 33 years of what he calls “a dream job.”
“When I first got here, I went to every single football practice and every game, home and road,” he says. “I went to every single basketball, baseball and softball game and volleyball match. It was busy.”
Porter worked Sundays. He would answer 3 a.m., phone calls from athletes with mental health issues.
“It was kind of a mom-and-pop operation,” he says. “Sometimes I had to recruit doctors from around town to help. They weren’t specifically trained in sports medicine, but they were very helpful.”
Today, the UA’s full-time CATS medical services staff lists 26 full-time employees, led by Dr. Stephen Paul, director of athletics medicine, and four assistant head team physicians.
Porter is the dean of Pac-12 team physicians, an institution within the institution, as people might say. As much as he earned respect for his medical skills, he matched that with his personal nature as a kind and loving man, willing to do whatever it took to help thousands of Wildcat student-athletes.
If there were a Hall of Fame for NCAA team physicians, Porter would be a first-ballot selection.
“Dr. Porter is the best,” says Justin Kokoskie, the UA’s men’s basketball trainer the last 20 years. “Just a humble, great guy.”
Dr. Don Porter, far left, spent 33 years in what he called a “dream job” in the UA athletic department. His last day was Wednesday.
None of it came easy for Porter. His biological father, an Army pilot, was killed on a training mission in Texas when Don was 4. His mother, Mildred, remarried and moved her family to Tucson in 1963. It was a period in which racial prejudice in Tucson manifested itself regularly, but the Porters moved above it and thrived.
“I knew I wanted to be a doctor from a young age,” Porter says. “It sounds cheesy, but my mom had a lot of health issues and I was able to go to the doctor with her. I was drawn to the science of medicine. When I enrolled at the UA (in 1971) I had put all my priorities in one basket. I wanted to be a doctor.”
Porter graduated from the UA College of Medicine in 1979 and completed his residency in Kansas. In 1989, when Dr. Fred Hirsch retired after 13 years as the UA’s team physician, Arizona hand-picked the former Rincon Ranger all-city basketball player to guide the school’s sports medicine program into a more modern era.
Talk about your home run hires. Porter not only supervised the medical treatment of more than 500 student-athletes each year, he became a welcome face on campus. He frequently played noontime pickup basketball games at Bear Down Gym with everyone from Steve Kerr and Reggie Geary to Adia Barnes.
He worked in harmony with the UA’s individual sports trainers from every conceivable sport, those who had high profiles such as Sue Hillman, Randy Cohen and Steve Condon, as well as forming a cohesive trust system with well-known Tucson consultants such as Dr. Jon Wang, Dr. Kim Hewson, Dr, Jon Nesbit and, more recently, Dr. Billy Prickett.
When Porter married Leslie Martin, a former college basketball standout, Lute Olson left a donor’s party to help the Porters celebrate. Athletic director Jim Livengood happily danced the Macarena.
“Don’t give me too much credit,” says Porter. “I’ve always had a good support system here. The Campus Health department has been remarkable. When I started, I was the only doctor, working with one nurse. But I loved being in the trenches, meeting so many wonderful people.”
Regrets? There have been a few, none more notable than the UA’s failure to play in the Rose Bowl game. “I so wanted to walk onto that field on New Year’s Day,” Porter says.
Rewards? “At graduation last week, a woman I treated years ago came up to me and told me how much I had helped her. Making a positive impact on someone’s life is more gratifying than you can imagine. It kept me energized over all the years.”
Porter doesn’t plan to just walk away from medicine. He’ll help with the Campus Health system when possible, be available as a consultant — and hope to be in the grandstands when Arizona finally breaks through and goes to the Rose Bowl.
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711
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Greg graduated from Utah State, worked at two Utah newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times, the Albany Democrat-Herald in Oregon and moved to Tucson to cover UA football and baseball. He became the Star’s sports columnist in 1984.

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Dr. Don Porter
Dr. Don Porter, far left, spent 33 years in what he called a “dream job” in the UA athletic department. His last day was Wednesday.
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