On Dec. 1, 2017, Dave Wolk served his final day as the President of Castleton University. It was capped by several announcements, most notably the decision by the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS) Board of Trustees to rededicate Spartan Stadium as Dave Wolk Stadium next fall.
Wolk was University President for 16 years, the longest tenure in the history of the institution. In that time, he worked to increase the student population and enhance the Castleton experience.
When Wolk took over in 2001, Castleton sponsored 12 varsity sports: baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's soccer, softball, and men's and women's tennis. There were some historical moments of Castleton athletics in the 20th century: the men's soccer team's NAIA Co-Championship in 1963, current NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy leading the men's basketball team to the NAIA Tournament in the mid-1980s, and numerous Mayflower Conference titles across the board.
In his inaugural address on Sept. 26, 2002, Wolk listed three major capital improvement projects that needed to be undertaken within five years. "Second, we need to improve our athletic facilities, including the development of a state-of-the-art fitness center," Wolk said.
Immediately, Wolk began positioning Castleton State College for athletic success, successfully applying for full membership in the North Atlantic Conference starting in 2002-03. He then began the process of expanding the athletic offerings at Castleton, returning field hockey to varsity status after a 12-year hiatus.
A Vermont native, Wolk felt that increasing the number of winter sports would keep more prospective students in the state. Starting in 2003-04, Castleton offered men's and women's alpine skiing and men's and women's ice hockey as varsity sports. He once again added to the fall schedule in 2005 with the inclusion of men's golf and women's volleyball within the Spartan athletic program.
Meanwhile, he oversaw renovations of current residence halls as well as the building of new structures such as Castleton Hall and the Houses to account for the enrollment increase. In the spring of 2006, Wolk was elected as Chair of the NAC Presidents Council as the conference began awarding automatic bids to NCAA Tournaments for its champions.
Wolk understood the value of student-athletes within the campus community, always extolling the fact that the GPA of Castleton student-athletes is higher than that of the student body as a whole. In 2006-07, he established the President's Cup for Academic Excellence, now awarded each season to the athletic team with the highest grade point average.
For Wolk and Castleton, the game-changer came at the end of the decade, with the announcement of the Castleton Student Initiative, a $25.7 million project which reinvigorated student life and learning and changed the face of campus. One of the centerpieces of the project was the new Spartan Stadium, a multi-use Field Turf facility for soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, …. and football!
Yes, Castleton's 20th NCAA sport would be football. In the face of those who were skeptical, Wolk pushed forward. On Aug. 27, 2009, nine days before the dedication of the new stadium and the first intercollegiate football game in Castleton history, Wolk told the assembled students, faculty, and staff to "Savor the Moment."
In the summer of 2015, Castleton State College became Castleton University, now the "small university with the big heart." That academic year, six more sports would join the Spartan athletic program: men's and women's indoor track and field, men's and women's Nordic skiing, and men's and women's outdoor track and field.
The 27th and 28th sports to join the Castleton athletic department, women's rugby and men's wrestling, began competition in 2016-17. With the expansion of sport offerings has come an increase in athletic staff: more athletic trainers, more help in athletic communications, and more graduate assistants, once again helping the school academically as the master's program in athletic leadership has grown in the past few years.
Once many of these improvements were put in place, Wolk began working on enhancing the athletic department's image as a competitive program. Last spring, Castleton University was accepted as the ninth member of the Little East Conference to begin full membership in the 2018-19 academic year.
So with 2017 coming to a close and a new administration taking hold at Castleton under the leadership of Dr. Karen Scolforo, it is worth remembering that the Castleton athletics program would not be at its current level without the work and support of Dave Wolk.
From Wolk's final Convocation speech this past August: "It is worth noting that the increased numbers of student athletes, students first and athletes second, have had a remarkable effect on improving campus life at Castleton in every way. In 2001 we had about 100 student athletes here, and now we have close to 700, with women and men playing 28 intercollegiate sports and over 500 participating in intramural sports. Our students, who also happen to be athletes, have made an impressive and enduring impact on our campus and on student life, with grade point averages continuing to exceed that of the general student population. Service activities, making a difference in our community before they go out to make a difference in the world, allow our students to continue to transform themselves as they transform our world."
Thank you Dave Wolk, and we promise to Keep Smiling!