Including a sports medicine clinic in the $2.5 million addition under construction at the Bel Air Athletic Club is, well, a marriage of convenience, says Roger Ralph, club owner.

"This is the right marriage," Ralph said. "We're a large, constantly growing athletic club. The clinic will not only help our members live healthier lives but also play a fitness role in the community."

The sports medicine clinic, expected to open next fall, will be operated by Union Memorial Hospital, which has leased 10 percent of the 50,000-square-foot addition, said Ralph, who owns the club with hiswife, Elaine.

The center will have an eight-member staff, including a full-time physician trained in sports-related injuries, said Neil MacDonald, manager for sports medicine at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

"Ninety percent of the injuries we see don't require surgery of any type," he said. "We'll have several physical therapists and athletic trainers working at the facility also."

In addition, the clinic will feature an X-ray room, a spine center with a physician trained in spinal-related injuries, and a work-hardening program that will help injured workers retrain for their jobs in a simulated work environment, MacDonald said.

Union Memorial, which will continue to operate its Baltimore clinic, chose the Bel Air site because of the growing need for health-related services in Harford County, which has several high schools and a "tremendous number of recreational programs," MacDonald said.

There are few physicians who provide specialized sports medicine care in Harford, he said.

"All that lends itself to us moving up there," MacDonald said. "We currently treat a fair number of folks from Harford County. For five or six years we've been listening to their requests for us to move up there."

MacDonald, a physical therapist and athletic trainer, said the hospital has considered other county sites over the years but none of them worked out.

"This seemed like the ideal situation for us," he said. "It's really the meshing of two quality programs. We have found a quality program that we don't mind aligning ourselves with."

He said the Ralphs, who opened the athletic club in 1980, have a facility with well-respected programs.

"I think we're going to help each other enhance our programs," he said. "Essentially, people who work out at the club and injure themselves in a tennis match will have convenient access to evaluation and treatment."

Ralph said 10,000 square feetof the addition will be leased as amedical complex. A cardiologist has leased 1,300 feet of that space, he said.

"One of the things we're trying to do is lease to medical practitioners in related fields to what we do at the club," he said.

The expansion of the 38,000-square-foot facility includes tripling the space for cardiovascular and strength-training equipment areas. Three new facilities for basketball courts also will be used for volleyball and community events.

Ralph said having the sports medicine clinic on the 8-acre complex will be an asset to both his staff and his customers. And the clinic, he said, will benefit from the flow of customers, about 800 to 1,300 people a day.

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