High School Athletes’ Unsung Supporter Serves on the Sidelines
by TERESA SCHIFFER
The special people who choose to donate their time to lend a helping hand to our communities, and especially those who dedicate their time to helping children, are true heroes in our society. Dr. Eric LaRue is one such outstanding individual. The Winter Haven pediatrician has built his practice on a dedication to children and their families. His commitment extends into the community, as well, as he serves as a volunteer sidelines physician for the Winter Haven High School football team, the Blue Devils. We caught up with LaRue to learn a little more about the good doctor.
LaRue has deep roots in Central Florida. Though he was born in Texas, he is a Winter Haven native through and through. He grew up in Winter Haven, attending Brigham Elementary, Denison Junior High, and Winter Haven High School. He has watched Winter Haven transform from the sleepy town of the ’60s and ’70s to the bustling city it is today. LaRue attended Auburn University in Alabama and graduated from the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL, in 1983. LaRue’s father, Dr. Raymond LaRue, was also a pediatrician in Winter Haven and established the LaRue practice in the 1950s. The senior LaRue served the community for about 35 years, and his son joined him in 1986. Upon the death of his father in 1989, Eric LaRue took over the practice.
For the past 20 years, LaRue has been volunteering as a sidelines physician for the Blue Devils.
The labor of love wasn’t something he originally planned to do.
“I’m a high school football fanatic, so I used to go to all the games anyhow, and always took my kids,” he explains.
“There were doctors who did this, and one that I knew, an orthopedist here in town, Dr. Robert Lerner, had to take off one day and he couldn’t do the game. So he asked me if I would just sit in for him while he missed this particular game.”
Dr. Lerner gave LaRue his cell phone and got him set up to sub for him, and LaRue agreed to help him out.
“The problem was,” laughs LaRue, “Dr. Lerner never came back!”
Since that day, LaRue has spent every Thursday and Friday night during football season with the athletes of Winter Haven High School.
Rick Dantzler, former state senator and current chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation in Lake Alfred, is an ardent fan of the pediatrician.
“I think Dr. LaRue should be awarded the Banker’s Cup Award for his service to the Winter Haven High School football team.”
Dantzler coached the JV team for seven years and knows firsthand the doctor’s dedication.
“The amount of time he gave to it was above and beyond the call of duty,” Dantzler continues. “The LaRue family has meant an awful lot to the Winter Haven community for several generations.”
LaRue has a lot of respect for all of the doctors who volunteer as sidelines physicians. The role of athletics in students’ lives has grown tremendously over the years, and Dr. LaRue recognizes the importance of having trained medical professionals on hand. Though he chooses to only volunteer with the football teams, there is a necessity for these valued volunteers in all sports. To LaRue, it is an honor and a privilege to be able to serve the community in this way.
Injuries are common in a full-contact sport such as football, and LaRue has seen his fair share over the years. Dislocated shoulders are common, though concussions tend to be what get the most attention these days. The physicians take a more cautious approach to concussions nowadays, as compared to the past, being more hesitant to let athletes return to full activity when a concussion is suspected. In his time volunteering, LaRue has seen a ruptured spleen, severely broken bones, and plenty of wrecked knees and shoulders.
LaRue emphasizes the importance of allowing children to be involved in athletics, if that is something they are interested in. He has provided many physicals to kids in Little League, Sertoma teams, and other teams over the years, clearing them to participate, free of charge.
“I think athletics for kids, boys and girls, is a great thing,” LaRue says.
“Athletics are important for increasing children’s self-esteem and learning lessons that will serve them well as adults, such as the ability to work with a team, and the value of self-sacrifice. You work toward a common goal, you learn to work with different people, you learn that when you fail, you can get up and go and succeed. I just think it’s a great way to get people ready for the adult world they’ll be entering.”
Kids today have more options when it comes to athletics. Things like football, basketball, and swimming used to dominate the student athletic scene, but now there are other options, too, including wrestling, tennis, track, cross-country, lacrosse, soccer, and more.
Larue says he encourages parents to let their children play sports.
“It all around just makes you a better individual.”