Rogal recognized for 30+ years as Penn Hills team doctor
Dr. Michael Rogal has been working with Penn Hills athletes for quite some time.
So long, in fact, that he can tell stories about current athletic director and football coach John Peterman's high school days.
“Right after football season one year, John had a big tear in his meniscus. I repaired it — it was the first meniscal repair done at Forbes Regional Hospital, where I was at the time,” Rogal said. “Back then, he was in a cast for six weeks. He came out of it, and his leg was pretty shriveled.”
Peterman was supposed to rehab the leg, and in an illustration of how very different sports medicine was back then, he went behind Rogal's back and started attending wrestling practice.
He also won the WPIAL championship in his weight class that year and placed high in the state championships.
“But he's lucky he didn't tear up his knee,” Rogal said. “That wouldn't happen today.”
Rogal has been a part of sports medicine in Penn Hills — and at districts throughout the region — for more than three decades. He has served Penn Hills student-athletes through three athletic directors and four football coaches, and was honored for his service with a certificate of recognition from the Allegheny County Council at the Penn Hills school board's Jan. 14 meeting.
Rogal, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with UPMC, has watched sports medicine evolve over the years to become a much larger, more integral part of high-school athletics.
“When I started, there weren't even sports-medicine programs in place,” he said. “There were some primary-care physicians who would attend games. I think it's rare to have an orthopedic going to all their football games. Most of the coverage now is through trainers, residents and primary-care sports physicians.”
Rogal said sports medicine for high school athletes is much more organized than in previous decades.
“In the old days, if someone got hurt at a soccer game, they'd have to call the ambulance,” Rogal said. “Now, at any event, there's somebody on site who's capable and even at smaller sporting events, they're covered.
“It's a dramatic difference,” he said.
Rogal credited the owners of the East Suburban Sports Medicine Centers for bringing sports medicine to high school athletes in the east suburbs.
“They took the lead in covering sports events and student-athletes in the early 1980s. They covered Penn-Trafford, Norwin, Gateway and (other) schools because east-suburb districts didn't have people doing sports medicine,” he said.
In terms of his personal approach, Rogal said it hasn't changed much during his time with the district.
“I give the on-field and acute help when it happens, but for care after that, it's really up to the player,” he said.
Players are under no obligation to be treated by Rogal — although many are — and he has formed a strong bond with Indians athletes over the years.
“I enjoy my relationship with the kids,” he said. “I'm blessed to get to know the players. It's really a privilege to get to know them. A lot of times if former players come back, I may be the only recognizable face on the sidelines since I've been there so long.”
Even three-plus decades of experience, however, doesn't mitigate the challenge of making injury decisions during a game, which Rogal said is the toughest part of his job.
“You don't have the instruments to do everything you want,” he said. “You don't want to pull a player for something minor, but you also don't want to leave him in if something more important is going on.”
Rogal cited the recent injuries to Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III as a prime example.
“He had an injury that they let him continue playing with, because he could still manage the team, and then he injured it worse,” Rogal said. “I think (Dr. James Andrews, who assessed Griffin's initial injury) is one of the best sports doctors in the country. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. There's always the potential to get hurt.”
Rogal said he tries to make all his decisions in a way “that doesn't meaningfully threaten the athlete, and at the same time, doesn't pull him out for a bump or a bruise.
“If we did that, you wouldn't be able to field a team!”
These days, Rogal said he always looks forward to attending Penn Hills sporting events and working with the sports-medicine staff, yet another illustration of Rogal's tenure with — and dedication to — Penn Hills athletics.
“The school physician, Bob Crossey?” Rogal said. “He was a player when I started.”
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.