For the past 40 years, Jim Skidmore has been one of the most important men on the Jacksonville State University campus. Since 1974, it has been his job to take care of the bumps and bruises, the sprains and strains and the overall welfare of JSU athletes.
He’s the athletic trainer and heads the JSU Sports Medicine Department. That means seeing to the medical needs of all 16 JSU teams – men and women. The department has three full-time trainers and up to 15 student trainers.
Skidmore has decided to retire. His official retirement date is at the end of July. But he has so much vacation time accrued, he is leaving his office at the end of this month.
For Skidmore, the road to Jacksonville State started in Kentucky’s Harlan County, a place known for its coal mines. His mother, Thelma, worked in a bank. His father, Jack, was a grocer.
“They were good honest people. I was the first one on that side of the family that went to college,” he said.
“I worked in the coal mines for two summers and I knew I didn’t want that. I was scared every second of every day I was underground. The mine always creaks and crackles and you have little flakes of dust fall on you.
“The first day, me and this elderly miner went down to check something and the ceiling popped. I started running and ran right into a wall. He just looked at me and laughed. He said. ‘There’s no use running cause you ain’t going to outrun a cave-in.’”
Skid, as he is known around campus, entered Eastern Kentucky University, which has become one of JSU’s biggest rivals in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“My parents drove me to campus, set my stuff out, hugged my neck and drove off,” Skid said. “I remember watching them drive off and my feelings was they had abandoned me. But then I realized they didn’t know what to tell me to do because neither one had been to college. That’s when I figured that you’ve got to do what you have to do. Just figure it out. It troubles me that we have some kids today that can’t figure this out.”
He worked his way through college and owed only $1,000 when he finished with his master’s degree. He wrote a check to pay that off before he came to Jacksonville. He was on an athletic trainer’s scholarship and then became a graduate assistant.
He got the JSU job when Eastern Kentucky’s longtime coach Roy Kidd mentioned to then JSU football coach Clarkie Mayfield that he thought Skidmore would make a good trainer. JSU was looking for one and it didn’t hurt that Mayfield was also a Harlan County native.
“He was from Black Star, just across the mountain,” Skid said with a laugh.
“They brought me down here for an interview. I was already going to take the job but they didn’t know that,” he said. “I told them I would call back in a week. I couldn’t act like I was easy.”
Skidmore pointed out that his home state is more basketball than football. But he never pulled for the Wildcats.
“My mother was a devout Kentucky fan,” he said. “She had family right across the line and they were big Tennessee fans. They didn’t speak for years.
“My mother would listen to UK basketball and she kept stats. It was done so professionally that it looked like it came off a word processor,” Skid said. “She would get mad at me because I wouldn’t watch UK games. She just couldn’t understand that.
“Somebody finally took her to watch Kentucky play in Rupp Arena. That’s the first time she went to heaven.”
For Skidmore and Jacksonville State it was love at first sight.
“All I know is this is the place for me,” he said. “The people at the university and in town have been very good to me.”
Then with a little smile he said, “I came from tiny Harlan and Jacksonville is getting a little big for me.”
Skidmore said the trainer’s job came open at Eastern Kentucky and his mother tried to get him to come back.
“I was never interested in going back to EKU and I think my mother took that to her grave that I didn’t go back home and bring the kids,” he said. “That would have been a two-hour drive from Richmond (Ky.) rather than an eight-hour drive from Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville State is the best place on the planet for me.”
Skidmore said his greatest satisfaction was last year’s 68-10 football win over EKU at JSU Stadium. “I had to go to the end of the stadium,” he said. “I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest.”
His worst disappointment was in 2011 when Eastern Kentucky took a 52-48 win at Jacksonville after the Gamecocks had built a 27-point lead with less than eight minutes to play. “That was my biggest disappointment. I couldn’t believe what happened,” he said.
Skidmore said coaches and parents have tried to talk him out of putting a player on the unable to play list.
“Sure I’ve had arguments with coaches, parents and even doctors,” he said. “I have never lost one of those arguments. I don’t mind coaches questioning me about a player, but I’m going to do what’s best for a student athlete.”
Jana McGinnis, JSU’s softball coach, also played basketball for the Gamecocks with her twin sister Dana. She has dealt with Skidmore many years.
“Skid is not only valuable to our program, but he’s a true friend to me,” she said. “He’s somebody I trust. You can sit down with him, he listens and then he gives advice. He combines old school medicine with the newer methods so our players get the best possible treatment.”
What was he like when she was a player?
“We were scared to death of him,” she said with a laugh. “He can be intimidating like a bear. But he’s a big teddy bear on the inside.”
James Hobbs, who has coached basketball and is the current golf coach at JSU, also had high praise for Skidmore.
“I’ve always felt he’s had the best interests of the players at heart,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs arrived at the school about three years after Skidmore.
“It was the first time I had dealt with a trainer and I was taken aback by his demeanor,” Hobbs said. “The thing I liked about him was that he was tough. If a player said he was hurt, Skid would have him come in at 5:30 in the morning. A lot of players found out they weren’t that hurt.
“Skid and I have developed a good friendship. He’s been through the ups and downs of our program and is a real survivor. He’s a special guy around here.”
Jacksonville State athletic director Warren Koegel said he will miss Skidmore’s love for the university.
“He has touched a lot of lives,” Koegel said. “Skid has helped me because he is an administrator and he serves with difference committees. He wears a lot more hats than just trainer.”
Skidmore has two children, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.
His daughter Lauren married former JSU kicker Chris Hobbs. Their children are Mitchell, Reid and Hope. Mitchell has a daughter, Charlee.
“Can you believe I’m a great-grandfather,” Skid laughed.
His son Zachary and his wife Erica have four children – Daniel, Kate, Gabby and Isabella. Zachary teaches and coaches football at Gadsden Middle School.
Skidmore was inducted into the Alabama Athletic Trainer’s Hall of Fame in 2009. The ALATA Hall of Fame honors athletic trainers who have distinguished themselves throughout the years in the service of athletic training in Alabama.
He was inducted into the Jacksonville State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005 and was elected to the American Sports Medicine Institute in 2005, which is one of the elite honors bestowed upon an athletic trainer.