Dr. Michael J. Axe is a force in WilmU’s Athletics department, fortified by more than 30 years of service. He’s also an icon in Delaware’s world of sports medicine.
It’s a quiet Thursday night at the Pratt Student Center with students softly shuffling through the hallways to their evening classes — that’s all except the athletes. Each one donned in their team sweatshirts, hoodies or track jackets are waiting patiently in the lobby for their turn to be seen by the head team doctor, Dr. Michal Axe.
Makayla McCarthy is up first. The freshman pitcher from El Cajon, California is checking up on old injuries to make sure she stays in tip-top shape for the upcoming year.
McCarthy is greeted with a smile and hops on the table.
It’s here that Dr. Axe is in his element — working with athletes and cracking jokes.
WilmU’s athletic department head trainer, Chris Stella, believes Dr. Axe can inject humor when appropriate and maintain necessary seriousness that creates the trust between him and the students.
Dr. Axe hosts these clinics weekly to serve the student-athletes of WilmU. Dr. Axe, along with his team of doctors — son, Dr. Jeremie Axe and Dr. Joseph Straight — and WilmU training staff, currently work with roughly 275 total students in the athletic department including the cheer team and the NCAA athletic teams. Dr. Axe has personally worked with more than 3,000 students in his 33-year tenure at WilmU.
It was Dr. Axe’s well-known dedication to sports medicine that brought him to the then- Wilmington College.
Dr. Axe created the All Sports Clinic of Delaware in 1985 with the intent to provide athletes in the area with health care geared toward safe- and rapid-return to play. Before which, many patients were forced to travel to Philadelphia and Baltimore for their sports-related surgeries. He created the clinic as the fourth founding partner of Wilmington Orthopaedics Consultants that later merged with Christiana Orthopaedics to establish Delaware’s largest orthopaedic practice, First State Orthopaedics.
“I moved to Delaware after working with the world-renowned orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Jim Andrews, known as Mr. Baseball,” says Dr. Axe. “It was natural to gravitate to Wilmington College because it was known as a baseball powerhouse.”
Since then, the athletics department continues to flourish as a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II institution that competes in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC).
Some of that growth, Stella believes is attributed to Dr. Axe’s commitment to adding resources to the University by way of access to additional specialists at his practice, updated medical technology, and helping to structure new policies and procedures for the department.
From Idea to Fruition
The passion for sports started young for Dr. Axe, who participated in wrestling, track and field events, and football at an early age. By junior high school, he’d set his sights on football. He began in a starting position on every team from seventh grade to his senior year in college in a game between Bucknell University and the University of Delaware. Dr. Axe captured the George Rieu Award as the team’s most outstanding lineman in both 1973 and 1974, and he was twice named to the AP All-Pennsylvania Team and the ECAC Division II All-East First Team.
It was an injury in the start of his senior year that introduced him to the idea of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon.
Following graduation from Bucknell University, Dr. Axe received his medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 1979. He completed a surgical residency at the Medical Center of Delaware through 1981 and an orthopaedic residency at the University of Pittsburgh through 1984. After which he completed sports and trauma fellowships at the Hughston Sports Medicine Hospital in Columbus, Georgia and Harborview Hospital in Seattle, Washington.
In addition to being the head team doctor for WilmU Athletics and an orthopaedic surgeon at First State Orthopaedics, Dr. Axe is a professor of Physical Therapy at the University of Delaware and chair of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. He co-hosts “Youth and Sports,” and volunteers with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware.
His impact on sports medicine has made him an international speaker on the practice (he’s written more than 85 peer-reviewed, academic journals).
One of his most significant accomplishments was earning the 2012 Robert E. Leach “Mr. Sports Medicine Award” from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, an annual award given to a sports orthopedic surgeon who has made significant contributions in sports medicine.
The Dream Team
One doesn’t have to look far to see Dr. Axe’s impact on local sports medicine – there’s even a weight room named in his honor at the Greater Newark Boys and Girls Club. Instead, just look at the two people he works with every day: Dr. Jeremie Axe, his son, and Dr. Straight.
Dr. Jeremie prides himself on having a top-notch team for WilmU athletes who believe in safety first.
“We provide both surgical and nonsurgical treatment for a variety of orthopaedic conditions and are specially trained in the current state-of-the-art techniques,” says Dr. Axe.
“It doesn’t get any better than to have him on my team. Jeremie is extremely orthopaedically talented, and he thinks well. Those two things together make him a budding superstar.”
Dr. Jeremie Axe attended his first football game when he was nine-months-old, with a special sideline view.
“I had to hand him to the football coach while I ran on the field to deal with an injury,” says Dr. Axe, who then worked as a team doctor for the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Jeremie Axe says it was one of his dreams to join his father in practice. He is quickly building a name for himself in sports medicine as an international speaker and a sought-after surgeon who performs almost 600 surgeries a year.
Dr. Straight is a non-operative sports medicine physician focused on regenerative therapy and musculoskeletal injuries and disorders.
Dr. Axe was one of his mentors.
“The reason I got into medicine is because I needed a knee surgery at 12-years-old, and Dr. Micheal Axe and his partner Dr. Bill Newcomb were my surgeons,” says Dr. Straight.
As Dr. Straight matured, he continued to witness Dr. Axe actively participate at St. Elizabeth High School as its team doctor and knew what he wanted to do.
The trio now provides WilmU teams and other local college-level teams with the best in sports medicine.
Dr. Axe believes in creating opportunities for others.
He loves what his job as an orthopaedic surgeon, but sees it as a way to give back to his community.
“I get the most joy out of providing outlets to youth in sports, or young researchers, or in assisting people in getting back to an active lifestyle,” he says. “That’s my life’s purpose: to help.”
Whether he’s assisting freshman softball players like WilmU’s Makayla McCarthy, or kidding around with WilmU basketball player Ed Henderson, Dr. Axe honors his responsibility to help inspire each patient.
“My favorite part of the job is talking to the patients about their ambitions and encouraging them to strive for more,” he says.
By Britney Gulledge