BY LAFE PEAVLER
Few fans have made a bigger impact on an athletics program than Roger Woolstenhulme, president of the UVU Wolverine Club board.
Woolstenhulme’s involvement with UVU dates back in 2001, just after he moved from Michigan to Utah.
“I thought it was a market size where I could make a difference,” he explained. “I looked to get involved with some of the colleges. I have a passion for helping young people achieve their goals and dreams, and I love sports. So, I looked to get involved with a local university.”
While looking for college programs to support, a friend had an interesting idea:
“He suggested that I meet with Mike Jacobsen, who was then the athletic director at Utah Valley State College. I was a little surprised by that. I think my comment was, ‘you mean, at the tech? What do they have going on at the tech?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’ve been away a long time, haven’t you?'”
He took his friend’s advice and saw Jacobsen.
“Jacobsen hooked me in a hurry,” Woolstenhulme said. “He laid out the plan on how they were going to go from junior college to Division I athletics in one step. They would likely be the only school in the history of the NCAA to accomplish that.”
Woolstenhulme saw the impact such a move would make.
“My mind was flooded with thoughts,” he said. “I was able to see the number of new scholarships that would be available for young people. I was able to see how quickly the impact of this change from junior college to Division I would have on our community. I could see nothing but advantages for everyone, and I wanted to see how I could help.”
And he’s done just that. He’s served on the Wolverine Club board since 2001, and he’s been the board president for eight years now. During that time, he’s been instrumental in bringing interest, fans and donors to UVU’s athletic program.
As UVU made the transition from a junior college to a four-year university, Woolstenhulme told me that UVU students didn’t have a solid identity.
“Sports has created, for a lot of students, an identity. Now they have something to really rally around,” he said.
That’s been a big focus of the Wolverine Club board, according to Woolstenhulme.
All that work is starting to pay off. This season, UVU won the Western Athletic Conference regular-season basketball title and earned its first bid to the NIT.
“It was really cool last weekend in Las Vegas to see the number of fans that went down there. I wasn’t sure how big our crowd would be,” Woolstenhulme told me. “I couldn’t estimate how many kids were there, but there were a lot of kids and a lot of fans from the community.”
Woolstenhulme loves UVU’s student athletes.
“One of the things that I enjoy the most is the fact that I get to know almost every student-athlete on a personal level every year. I know their name. I know their story. I know where they come from. I know what they’re majoring in. I know what they want to accomplish with their degree. So when I see that kid on the field, I’m pulling for that kid on a different level than just automatically liking that kid because he plays for that team.”
Fans like this are rare indeed.
“At UVU we’ve worked hard to create a culture,” Woolstenhulme continued. “One of the things we’ve got a UVU that virtually no other school has is a blank slate. We have the ability to create an athletic culture. We have the ability to decide who we want to be and how we want to represent ourselves. We should be an intimidating place to play by how we support our team.”
Woolstenhulme isn’t just a fan of the so-called major sports. He’s proud of UVU’s wrestling program.
“Where every other program in the state of Utah is cutting wrestling, UVU started wrestling,” he said. “No school is starting wrestling right now. The national wrestling contingent has jumped on board with that.”
And UVU’s wrestling program is gaining national attention.
“We’ve had defending national champion Penn State come to our campus and wrestle us,” he said. “You don’t get the defending national champion to come play at your school when you’re a start up, but we have had that happen.”
This year, UVU is sending four wrestlers to compete for the national championship: “I believe that this is a program where UVU can be a perennial Top 25, national program,” he said.
It’s amazing to think how far this program has come, and I see great things in UVU’s future thanks to fans like Woolstenhulme.
Lafe Peavler is a sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.