Those who knew him best said that Joe Willis had a passion for helping people above and beyond helping himself. He always put the welfare of his students first through his job as an athletic trainer. For this dedication to his students and his love for athletic training, the training room at Munster High School, his alma mater, is being named after him.
Willis graduated from Munster High School in 2010 and was a student athletic trainer during high school. He earned his degree in athletic training at Indiana University in Bloomington. After graduation, he was hired by the Community Care Network to work at the Concussion Clinic in Munster and also serve as an athletic trainer at local high schools.
“Joe was truly the most positive person I’ve ever dealt with,” said John Doherty, vice president Therapy Services, Sports Medicine and Occupational Health, for Community Healthcare System. “He was an excellent athletic trainer who put the kids ahead of himself. He was always looking out for the best interests of the health of his student athletes.”
Willis himself had a number of health challenges that resulted in a heart transplant in 2016. Despite his illness, Willis earned a master’s degree in Business Administration and graduated while hospitalized at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The unusual ceremony caught the attention of Chicago news stations when Cynthia Roberts, dean of the IUN business school, traveled to the hospital to present Willis with his diploma.
Mary Spina, head athletic trainer at Munster High School and supervisor of Community Hospital’s Concussion Clinic, was a mentor for Willis. For a time, he served as her assistant.
“Joe was the consummate healthcare provider,” she said. “His love for athletic training and taking care of athletes was evident even when he was spending time recovering in the hospital. He always put the athletes’ health and wellbeing first.”
The Munster High School training room is named in honor of Willis, who collapsed and died after tending to a basketball player at Hammond Academy of Science & Technology on December 5, 2018. The ceremony, officially unveil the engraved plaque, was held on Saturday, December 7 in between the junior varsity (JV) and varsity boys’ basketball games. The JV game started at 5:30 p.m. at the high school, 8808 Columbia Avenue in Munster. Munster is hosting Hammond Morton that night. Prior to his heart transplant in 2016, Willis served as the athletic trainer at Morton for the Community Care Network, Inc.
For more information about the athletic training services and the Concussion Clinic at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System, visit COMHS.org/sports.