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The City Journals

Highland High inducts former athlete into Hall of Fame

Oct 31, 2016 03:34PM ● By Natalie Mollinet

Russ Toronto was a sports doctor who was posthumously inducted into Highland High’s Hall Of Fame during homecoming week. (Elaine Toronto/Sister of Russ)

By Natalie Mollinet | [email protected]

Sugar House, Utah - It takes a talented athlete to score and win the game for his team, but it also takes a talented doctor to help the players stay healthy. Highland High had one man who did both, as a talented athlete and, later as a caring sports doctor. 

Russ Toronto was posthumously inducted into the Highland Hall of Fame after being chosen by those within the community and those at Highland. 

Highland’s football head coach Brody Benson said he developed a friendship with Russ after seeing him as a patient while playing sports. 

“The great thing about Russ is he made you feel like you were his only patient,” Benson said during Highland’s homecoming assembly. “I think that was the biggest thing that he wanted to do was to help, he wanted to get people back and he wanted to heal.” 

Many who knew Russ, knew he was a gifted athlete, he excelled in baseball when he played at Highland and was gifted at coaching when it came to his children and others. Russ passed away on June 28 due to heart problems. 

Russ was a major part of the state’s sports medicine scene for 35 years, and was one of the busiest doctors, seeing around 5,000 athletes a year. He graduated from Highland in 1970 and went on to be a pitcher at the University of Utah. He became interested in medicine after applying for work at a hospital where he was assigned to take care of elderly patients. Russ enjoyed the job and from there went to medical school at the University of Utah. He worked as an emergency room physician for 13 years.  Weekends and off hours were spent helping high school teams recover from injuries including Highland. 

“He continued to be a ram by the way that he helped Highland athletes,” Benson said, “There were countless times that I’d call on Russ to come over and get one of our players in to see him. If he couldn’t, there were many times he’d stop in on his way home to see them, just to go out of his way to make sure that he could get them back out on the field.” 

Benson spoke at Highland’s homecoming assembly about how he trusted Russ to heal his athletes as well as his own family. 

Chris Toronto, Russ’s youngest son who attended East High, came to Highland’s homecoming assembly. He talked about his relationship with his dad, how his dad was a coach, healer and friend to many, and how the family was honored that his father was inducted into Highland’s Hall of Fame. 

“It’s very special for us as a family,” Chris said. 

Many of Russ’s family, including his siblings and some of his nieces and nephews attended Highland High school and were also treated by him. His niece Clara Toronto was one of those who participated in different Highland sports. 

“He was an enabler,” Clara said, “but the old kind. He wanted nothing more than to get you back to your sport. His end goal was to give you the resources you needed to get back into the game and stay in the game. He genuinely cared about your success.” 

During Highland’s homecoming football game, Russ’s wife Paula, their five children and their 17 grandchildren accepted a plaque that inducted Russ into the Highland Hall of Fame. 

“I know that he would have been very proud of it,” Chris said, “One thing that he was so great at was getting athletes and everyday people back out doing what they love to do.”