One drink changes sports culture

By Paul Martin

Gatorade has come a long way since its inception in the 1960s, and nobody knows the story better than Dr. Bobby Barton.

A 1968 graduate of UK, Barton has been involved with athletic training his entire career. One of his first jobs was at the University of Florida, which put him on the football field with a drink that would change college sports forever.

Dr. Robert Cade invented Gatorade for the Florida Gators football team in 1965.  The players noticed immediate positive results. While visiting teams had cramping issues, the Gators kept right on running. Speculation ran wild in the football world, trying to figure out what the Gators were drinking to improve second half performance. Other programs tried to duplicate the product, but to no avail.

“Georgia had what they called Bulldog Punch. These other teams had variations, but none were near as good as Florida’s Gatorade,” Barton said.

By 1970, Florida decided to sell Gatorade to the general public and did so with resounding success. Rehydration had become a topic of importance, especially with the oppressive heat in the South. Information was being compiled on the subject to help alleviate cramping and heat-related illness.

“Florida figured out that if it was good for the athlete, it was good for the person cutting grass or playing softball,” Barton said. “They were very forward thinking about this process.”

Coach Doug Dickey was in charge of Florida football in the early Gatorade years and left a memorable impression on the athletic training staff. The head coach looked over at the trainers one day and had a question for them.

“Guys, it’s a little sticky out here today, do y’all want to give the boys an extra Gatorade break?”

This was a far cry from the traditional and rugged attitude many head coaches held during the ‘60s.

“Before all the new information and science on rehydration importance, most coaches had the logic that drinking too much during a game would make the players not perform well,” Barton said.

In 1982, Gatorade became the first sponsor of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. From this point forward, athletic trainers across the country were asked to test new products related to the sideline use of Gatorade.

“Keith Webster and Jim Madaleno have been very involved in UK athletic training, and have done a wonderful job spreading the word in Kentucky about rehydration,” Barton said. “UK has one of the best programs in the country on this topic.”

Also developed at the time by Gatorade, was a chart for locker rooms that players still use today. This chart records humidity levels, outside temperature and weight loss for each player during a specific practice time.

“I’d say 95 percent of football teams in the college and National Football League check in before each practice with this chart, or something similar,” Barton said. “Heat illness in the 1970s and ‘80s was an issue, and we tried to fix it.

“It’s basically like the attention that concussions get today.”

After leaving Florida, Barton found a home at Eastern Kentucky University. He has been there ever since, spending most of his time alongside legendary coach Roy Kidd. Barton was elected to the Ohio Valley Conference Hall of Fame in 2004 for his efforts in the area of athletic training.

“Gatorade probably helped our cause to win two championships at EKU,” Barton said.

UK football uses Gatorade products, even when Florida comes to town. UK senior defensive back Randall Burden won’t let his dislike for the opposition deter actions during the game.

“I’m going to drink Gatorade, it does not matter how much you hate another team or where Gatorade came from,” Burden said. “I’m still going to drink it from here on out.”