Being a part of a national championship celebration is a truly special experience.
Just ask Dr. Mark Lavallee.
Lavallee was at PPL Park in nearby Chester recently when Notre Dame won the NCAA Division I men's soccer crown with a 2-1 victory over Maryland.
Lavallee was the team doctor for the Fighting Irish men's soccer program from 2005 until taking a job in September with WellSpan's Family Medicine Residency program as a teaching faculty member. He will also start WellSpan's newly-accredited sports medicine fellowship program. He had been part of Notre Dame's medical team since 1999 and had worked with numerous other sports as well, including the legendary Notre Dame football team.
The job with WellSpan was a homecoming of sorts for Lavallee, who completed his residency at York Hospital in the 1990s. He also has family in Baltimore and Philadelphia and grew up in Severna Park, Md., so he's very familiar with the area.
Taking the job in York, however, didn't mean that Lavallee lost touch with his friends at Notre Dame. After all, he'd worked there for about 15 years and started the 2013 season with the Irish soccer team before moving to York.
When it became apparent that the Irish were going to advance to the NCAA Final Four, Lavallee offered his services to his former team in case a doctor with a Pennsylvania medical license was needed to help out in an emergency. The school came through with credentials and some extra passes for both the semifinals and final.
As a result, Lavallee got an up-close look at an historic weekend for the Irish, who captured their first-ever NCAA men's soccer championship. After the game, he was part of the on-field celebration, which included photos with the players, coaches and NCAA trophy.
"It was very cold, which any one of my former Notre Dame athletes will tell you probably played in our favor because our team was acclimatized to it," Lavallee said. "I was very proud of my team, especially Coach Bobby Clark and assistants, B.J. Craig and Greg Dalby. They are some of the best coaches and finest, ethical people a physician could ask to work with."
It's apparent that the folks at Notre Dame thought highly of Lavallee, too.
"At the team picnic at Bobby Clark's house this past August, Bobby went out of his way to acknowledge my dedicated years of service and sent me a soccer ball signed with the whole national championship team," Lavallee said. "It was a honor and a pleasure for me to see each of the young men on the national championship team, and their teammates who did not dress for the game, grow over their three to five years on the team."
Lavallee said he has always loved soccer, but he also has interests in other sports, including strength training, Olympic weightlifting and distance swimming.
In fact, Lavallee is chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, a role in which he directs medial care for Olympic hopefuls. "But that is a separate story in itself," Lavallee said.
As a sports physician, however, Lavallee is careful not to become too much of a "fan."
"I am an avid advocate for athletes of all sports," he said. "As a sports medicine physician, you need to be the athlete's advocate at all times. Physicians who are more 'fans' may make decisions that are in the team's best interest, as opposed to the athlete."
Lavallee has made a career out of caring for athletes in many sports and in many locations. He has now brought those skills to York.
But there is little doubt that the 2013 Notre Dame national championship men's soccer team will always hold a special place in his heart.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.