*Story by Randy Sarvis
With only two games played in the Cincinnati Bengals' season, 2020 is already a record year in the long history of the team's enduring relationship with Wilmington College.
For the first time, Paul Sparling, the team's longtime head athletic trainer, awarded an internship to a female student from the College while, also, rehiring the previous year's intern. Indeed, this also marks the first time he selected two WC students for internships in the same year, although, in the early 2000s, a second WC intern came aboard midway through summer training camp when they were shorthanded.
Senior athletic training majors Gavin Salyer from Richwood and Ashley Boone from Batavia have been with the Bengals since July and worked the team's season opener against the Chargers last Sunday (Sept. 13).
The Bengals have hosted some four-dozen WC athletic training interns since 1981 Wilmington College graduate Sparling became the team's head athletic trainer in 1992.
Sparling, who received last season's Outstanding NFL Athletic Trainer-of-the-Year award, has said, "When I have an athletic training intern recommended to me by Wilmington College, I know they're going to be top-of-the-line." He annually visits the College to present an injury case study to athletic training students.
"With their education and experience, I get the cream-of-the-crop," Sparling added. "The hands-on learning experience as part of Wilmington's fine program allows those students to separate themselves from athletic training students at other institutions. It makes it an easy choice for me to bring Wilmington College students on board the Cincinnati Bengals medical staff."
Salyer shared the story of how he became the first two-time WC Bengals intern. Those applying for the choice NFL internship are typically seniors, but Salyer gained the opportunity as a junior last year. The internship went well and, when he and Sparling met at the end of the team's season, Salyer asked him if he had connections with the Cleveland Browns and would recommend him for a summer camp internship with their upstate rival.
Upon hearing the mention of wanting to work for another team his senior year, Sparling (jokingly) threw him out of his office.
"Paul brought me back in and told me he wanted me to come back for another year with the Bengals," Salyer said, noting he never dreamed he'd have an opportunity to intern a second season with the team.
"For me, not only to be able to get an NFL internship, but to work for an WC alumnus who's so highly respected and knowledgeable is a perfect opportunity," Salyer said. "I feel this experience, especially two years with the Bengals, will give me an advantage and extra edge over other job applicants — the opportunities I've had are at the top level."
Salyer, who wants a graduate assistantship while he works on his master's next year, aspires to work in the NFL.
Boone recalled coming to WC as a freshman intent upon applying for the Bengals internship even though it has been a male-dominated position until only recently. Then, when it came time to apply last winter, she knew Salyer had been rehired.
"I told Jen (AT faculty member Jennifer Walker) I wanted to apply for the Bengals internship — and that was that," Boone said. "I went in for the interview and it all worked out."
Now, two months into the internship, she is especially impressed with how Sparling loves teaching student ATs and, with nearly four decades as an NFL athletic trainer under his belt, he's pretty much seen it all.
"Being able to put Paul Sparling as a reference will be a real advantage — he's so highly respected," Boone added, noting that after her graduation from WC this spring, she plans to attend graduate school with ambitions of working for a professional sports team.