Over 800 student-athletes compete every year for UNC, and Director of Sports Medicine Dr. Mario Ciocca is responsible for keeping them all healthy. Ciocca joined the university as a physician in 1996 and was appointed to his current position in 2010. He also serves as head physician for the football, baseball and men’s soccer teams.

For his service to the university, and particularly for his leadership throughout the pandemic, UNC announced Thursday that Ciocca would receive the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham nominated Ciocca for the honor.

“Through so much stress and uncertainty, he has handled everything with calm, patience and care — never turning down a Zoom meeting with a team or text from a coach. He has been tireless in his efforts,” Cunningham wrote in his nomination letter. “His medical care has helped thousands of students fulfill their dreams of competing at the college and professional levels. And through this pandemic, his dedication, compassion, guidance, grace and service have inspired us all.”

Under Ciocca’s guidance in the 2020-21 school year, Carolina teams made six Final Fours and won the national championship in field hockey.

Today, the UNC sports medicine staff features 15 athletic trainers, four physicians, three sports psychologists, two nutritionists, a nurse, and several other employees of the Campus Health Department.

“It’s become not just taking care of injuries but caring for the whole athlete including injury prevention, improving performance, body recovery, general wellness, mental health as well as physical health,” Ciocca said in a release from Carolina Athletics.

In his letter, Cunningham described Ciocca as “a rock.” Dwight Hollier, senior associate athletic director for student-athlete health and well-being, seconded Cunningham’s nomination, saying, “Dr. Ciocca never wavered, and our athletics department has benefited significantly.”


Photo via Carolina Athletics.

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