WVU Varsity Club is Growing

  • By John Antonik
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  • April 14, 2011 09:49 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Dale Wolfley is taking the Confucius approach to growing the WVU Varsity Club – A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Well, Wolfley is beyond his first step and is now about ready to start running.

The Wolfman is becoming known as the “reunion man” around the Coliseum. So far, Wolfley has organized team reunions for women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball with a big celebration coming up for Mountaineer football during the weekend of the Gold-Blue spring game April 29. With still more than two weeks to go, he says he has about 250 former players committed to return to campus.

“It’s going to be a terrific weekend,” he said.

There are certainly plenty of exciting things planned, beginning with a Thursday night reception for former football players, a luncheon Friday for retiring associate athletic director Garrett Ford, a Coaches’ “Chalk Talk” Round Table event featuring ex-coaches Jim Carlen, Bobby Bowden, Frank Cignetti and Don Nehlen, a touch football game for former players, the Gold-Blue game, and then a post-game reception inside the Touchdown Terrace to conclude the evening.

“It’s a celebration of WVU football,” said Wolfley.

The WVU Varsity Club has been in existence since the early 1990s, but a push has been made by new Director of Athletics Oliver Luck to increase membership and get former WVU student-athletes, coaches, administrators, managers, trainers and cheerleaders more involved in the Mountaineer program. As a former WVU player, Luck understands the importance of remaining connected with his alma mater.

“When a student leaves the University so many memories involve athletics – football games, basketball games, soccer, volleyball, baseball or what have you, and I think we need to do a better job of having contact with that student or student-athlete as they leave the University,” Luck explained earlier this month in a question and answer session with MSNsportsNET.com.

“It’s about maintaining those relationships with teammates and coaches and having events that former players come back to and feel welcomed,” said Luck.

In the past, a players’ contact with their particular sport was usually through their coach or assistant coach. Now, Wolfley wants to bridge that gap and make sure the relationship extends to the entire athletic department.

“It’s about bringing them back into our community,” Wolfley explained. “We are a very inclusive tent being that we have former players, coaches, managers, trainers, cheerleaders and administrators. We have represented the University, the state and Mountaineer Nation. That makes it a very exclusive club. We need them to be able to come back and support their individual teams.”

Wolfley noted that the benefits are two-fold. For instance, former WVU athletes can reconnect with their alma mater while also getting an opportunity to share some of their life’s experiences with West Virginia’s current group of student-athletes.

“When I graduated I didn’t have many mentors to help guide me,” he said.” We’re starting to put that into place now. Maybe our Varsity Club members can help them with a job when they graduate or help them down the road.”

Wolfley was an offensive lineman for the Mountaineers in the late 1980s and early 1990s and he came to really appreciate his WVU experience, particularly as he grew older.

“When you are going through college it’s a big time in your life. You are turning into a young man and a young woman and many things are happening,” he said. “You are going away from home for the first time. These memories tend to stick with you. You go back and it’s like you never left. That’s why we have to take care of each other.

“The college experience is such an impressionable time period,” he continued. “There are intense feelings and it plays a big impact later in life. West Virginia became a part of my DNA and a part of my soul. That’s why I am back here because it was such a big part of me.”

In the past, acquiring names, numbers and addresses of former WVU athletes was a monumental task. Varsity Club membership was really only as good as a coaches’ rolodex. Today with the Internet and social media so popular, it has become much, much easier to locate former WVU athletes.

“We are really increasing the data base of former athletes,” Wolfley noted.

The Varsity Club has a new website established to provide information on the programs and services offered to Varsity Club members, upcoming events and functions, and the ability for former student-athletes to update their personal information. A membership is just $25 with the option of also acquiring a lifetime membership.

In addition to the website, a Varsity Club Facebook page has been created that is now approaching 400 members, enabling former WVU student-athletes to keep in touch with each other.

“This is a social network but it is also a business network,” he explained. “We are helping each other. It’s not just the individual student-athletes.”

Wolfley estimates that approximately a thousand former athletes have returned to campus for team reunions so far this year, and he only expects that number to grow in the future.

“In men’s basketball we had the largest turnout we have ever had for a reunion,” he said. “We had seven different decades represented for that weekend.”

Wolfley said the one common theme when players return is their amazement with how much the city has changed, how much the campus has changed and how much the athletic department has changed through the years.

“I was gone for 13 years without much communication and it was one of the biggest holes in my life,” he admitted.

Wolfley is also excited that a number of sponsors have come on board to help offset some of the costs involved in maintaining a club that he expects to one day top more than a thousand members.

“Cava & Banko have become major supporters of the Varsity Club,” said Wolfley. “WatchTower Insurance and Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso, PLLC are now involved. And, Bucci, Bailey & Javins, LC is sponsoring the Coaches “Chalk Talk” Round Table event before the spring game.”

A wrestling reunion will take place on Saturday and Sunday after the Gold-Blue Game, and Wolfley noted two other major events taking place next fall. Men’s soccer will be commemorating its 50th anniversary with a weekend celebration, Sept. 2-4, surrounding home matches against Binghamton (coached by former Mountaineer Paul Marco) and Old Dominion. And the annual Varsity Club Weekend will take place Sept. 10 when the Mountaineers take on Norfolk State.

Wolfley says his No. 1 goal is to grow Varsity Club membership, but he also wants to continue to grow in his job as well.

“It’s a fun job,” he said. “The one thing I like doing is working with our alumni. The main thing is that we have to show that we care.

“And it’s not just me trying to raise the Varsity Club membership. It takes a team effort, and that is our Varsity Club community,” he concluded.

The journey has begun.

Former WVU student-athletes, coaches, managers, trainers and athletic department staff members can learn more about the WVU Varsity Club by emailing Dale Wolfley.