September 20, 2011

A monument to love and commitment

More news about: Castleton State
David Wolk
Castleton State College photo

After the University of Vermont dropped its football program following the 1974 season, David Wolk spent a lot of time wondering why he lived in the only place in the contiguous 48 states that did not have a state school playing football.

Norwich University, the oldest private military college in the nation, and Middlebury, a prestigious private college that offered a little Ivy education, were the only college football teams in the state.

When he was appointed president of Castleton State College in 2001 he began asking questions. And, yes there was resistance. He had to fight the football stereotypes. There were some on the staff who felt it would erode academics and put an "Animal House" atmosphere on campus.

But he would soon have another challenge on his his hands. He noticed about Christmas time of 2003 that he wife Diane was forgetting things. Diane Wolk, a beloved and dedicated school administrator, then began to forget to go to meetings at the elementary school where she was principal.

David kept it quiet, out of respect for her dignity.

But an official diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's came in 2006. She was only 56 at the time of the diagnosis. Three percent of the Alzheimer's diagnosed are considered early onset or before age 65.

Wolk decided to go public. There were campus wide emails about the disease.

"We wanted to educate people about what has been a taboo topic," Wolk said.

The high-scoring women's soccer team raised money for the Alzheimer's Foundation by getting donations for each goal scored.

Diane spoke to the team about how much it meant to her.

David had a beautiful monument erected at the players' entrance to Spartan Stadium. It was made of Vermont Verde Antique Marble. There are only two quarries that have that marble and he went to the one in Rochester and selected the piece himself.

"I wanted it to be something endemic to Vermont," he said.

The words on the monument are inspirational, telling about the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae. At the bottom of the monument it says: "In Honor of Dr. Diane Wolk."

The football Spartans touch the monument as they enter Spartan Stadium before each practice and every game. Not only that, they have a piece of the Verde Antique marble that the monument was shaped from that they take to road games, performing the same ritual of touching the marble before taking the field.

Dave and Diane made the long trip to Bangor, Maine in 2010 to attend the Spartans game against Husson.

As is so often the case, her state of mind and feelings fluctuate greatly throughout the game and when it came time to go to the stadium, she did not want to leave the motel. Dave hired personnel to watch over her while he went to the game.

When they returned to campus, he navigated the car along the narrow walk way to the monument and aimed the car lights on it, reading the words and telling Diane about the monument in her honor.

Each time he would tell her about the monument or what the women's soccer team was doing for her, it was as though she was hearing it for the first time. And she was thrilled.

"It was the gift that kept on giving," he said.

She was courageous and philosophical. When her disease was brought up, she would say, "Well, everyone has something."

Dave Wolk got some of the detractors about football in a room.

"I looked them in the eye and told them about the values of football," he said.

It was a great day when the announcement came that the school would boast a football program.

The first game was played on a perfect autumn day on Sept. 5, 2009. It was a victory over Anna Maria, another school playing its first football game ever. The tailgating scene was amazing. There were bands playing, the governor was on hand to speak, and it had all the pomp and circumstance you could imagine.

Dave walked around the huge tailgating scene and saw a couple of the professors who were most against the installation of football. At least at one time. They were having a wonderful time tailgating.

That was only one part of a wonderful day that made Dave smile.

Peter Huntoon, a local artist who works in water colors, captured the day and his painting of it hangs in the Castleton Hall of Fame room as well as in many other offices and private homes.

But Diane's condition worsened and really took a downward turn this summer. She had been going to Florida for clinical trials. That was at the suggestion of a doctor treating Diane when Dave asked the doctor, "What would you do if it were your wife?"

The doctor told him that treatment for the disease in Florida was cutting edge and he would take her there. Dave made frequent trips to Florida and in July of this year arranged for a family reunion with all the children and relatives. It would be a game in St. Petersburg. And, of course, Dave's beloved Red Sox were at Tropicana Field that day.

"The family reunion turned into family intervention," Wolk said.

The kids and everyone else could see what Dave had been seeing, but did not want to acknowledge. He was in denial. But Diane was not capable of taking care of herself.

It was a safety issue. She would do things like put her hand down the garbage disposal and start to turn it on. Thankfully, someone saw her and acted in time.

It was time to put her in an assisted living facility. "I was outvoted 24-1," Dave said.

Such an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's got plenty a lot of national attention lately when Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt received that diagnosos at age 59.  Coincidentally, Summitt's 600th victory came at the University of Vermont where Diane had been treated.

"I really admired the way Pat Summitt handled it," Wolk said.

Diane's assisted living facility is in Florida. It is a place with the best possible treatment and where she is gets what she needs: no stress, a lot of sleep and her medicine which is the maximum dose.

"It's such a hard disease. It's such a long good-bye," Wolk said.

The good-bye is almost a misnomer. At least on one end. Diane no longer knows who he is.

Wolk's work and the college has been a sanctuary. Eighteen-hour days are part dedication, but also part escape.

He called in the head coaches of all 20 varsity sports and told them about the monument once it was in place. He spoke of the Spartan spirit it stood for. He told them it was up to them to develop their own ritual.

He is pleased about the way football even takes its ritual on the road.

And football, he says, has torn down those stereotypes that were the source of the opposition to the sport coming to campus.

The student body has a GPA of 2.59. Athletes carry a 3.2 GPA. Wolk loves to point this out, mentioning it at meetings when he speaks.

"The football team has a GPA of 3.0 which I think is amazing for a team of 100 students," Wolk said.

"The people are seeing well-dressed young men performing service in the community. I haven't received a single complaint (about the football team)," he said.

He also saw bringing football aboard as being important for the auxiliary opportunities it would provide. Athletic training and sports management are popular majors and so is music. Vermont's only marching band, which came along with the football program, has helped to double the number of music majors.

And this week Anna Maria is back in town. And the players will file into Spartan Stadium, each touching the monument.

"One of the neat things about college football is the traditions. This is becoming one of them," Castleton coach Marc Klatt said.

And that is exactly what the Father of Castleton Football had in mind. 

Lancers continue special season

Worcester State went to 3-0 by thrashing Nichols 49-3. Marcus Price has eclipsed the 100-yard mark rushing in all three games. Tony Tokarz passed for three touchdowns and his primary target was AJ Scerra who hauled in five passes, two for scores.

It's some time since the Lancers have been 3-0, but coach Brien Cullen knows that won't mean a thing if his team starts the divisional part of the NEFC campaign at 0-1. Divisional play starts this week in the league and the Lancers must win on the road against Westfield State.

There's a 'D' in Golden Bears

Western New England quarterback Bryce Brown rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown but the big story for the Golden Bears was the defense. It racked up nine sacks, including three from Todd Krolikowski. The Bears forced seven turnovers.

Buc passing

There's joy at Massachusetts Maritime where the Bucs are 2-0. Mike Stanton connected with Jonathan Emond for three touchdowns passes as they throttled MIT 51-13.

Curry rolls by land and air

Curry laced Coast Guard 44-21 as Phil Bigelow rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns and Anthony Canevale came off the bench and threw for three touchdowns. Coast Guard's Erik Gerken set a school record with 15 receptions.

Seahawks look ready

Salve Regina tuned up for its big showdown with 3-0 Endicott by trimming Framingham State 28-13 as Richie Edwards rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns.

Endicott ready, too

Endicott's Phil Konopka threw for four touchdowns and Mike Lane rushed for 137 yards as the Gulls crushed Fitchburg 58-7 before a capacity home crowd.

Bridgewater kicks Plymouth

Who would have though when Brian Smith kicked a 30-yard field goal in the first quarter that it would wind up being the difference. The Bears edged Plymouth State 10-7.

But it was the defense that provided the biggest kick. The Bears held the Panthers to 134 yards of offense, their lowest since 2004. Kevin Laudano spearheaded that defense with six tackles and an interception.

Mariners hold off UMD

Mass-Dartmouth might be as improved as anyone from 2010. Maine Maritime had to get an interception from Brick Lawrence late in the game to preserve a 21-13 win. Last year the Corsairs lost this game 42-0.

That has to give UMD plenty of optimism as it begins divisional play this week.

Maine did it with its signature running game out of the triple otion. Ian Champeon rushed for 119 yards and Nick Bourassa 100.

Tough start for Cadets

Norwich was the co-favorite in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference preseason coaches poll but the Cadets are 0-3 after falling 37-14 at Hartwick.

It was not as easy trip. Roads washed out by Tropical Storm Irene meant a longer route. They broke up the trip with a practice at a high school on the way but one of the buses broke down on the way to the high school.

The Cadets have a new life, though, as they begin ECFC play this week at home against Becker. Becker fell 31-3 to WPI.

SUNY-Maritime tops rivals

SUNY-Maritime edged Merchant Marine 13-7 and the Privateers are now 3-0 against their neighbors from just across the water. Tyler Trodder threw a TD pass and Jamie Spanopoulos ran for the other score.

Other ECFC teams did not fare as well as the Privateers. Husson was thumped 69-13 by Springfield and Castleton was beaten 51-21 at RPI.

The Big Games

This time of year when conference play is just beginning, one game does not usually jump out as the marquee contest.

But this year it does. Endicott's home game against Salve Regina is as intriguing as a September game can be. Expect an overflow crowd. A record crowd.

The script is perfect. Endicott is 3-0 and enjoyed its first playoff berth in 2010. Salve is the coming program that is 2-1 and might have opened the most eyes in its narrow loss to ranked Montclair State.

And wouldn't it be something for Jeremy Cameron's Mass. Maritime program to go to 3-0 and 1-0 in the division? It doesn't figure to be easy in New London against Coast Guard.

Anna Maria has never won a football game. Never. The AmCats have to believe they have a chance to set off a wild celebration at Castleton.

And finally the New England Small College Athletic Conference teams get to play after watching and reading about others playing football for three weeks. Amherst will try to continue its magical run from 2010 at Bates, Middlebury is at Wesleyan, Trinity goes to Colby, Bowdoin hosts Williams and Tufts travels to Hamilton.

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