Leading the Way
Pitcher Johnny Volk, the first to represent CSUEB at National Student-Athlete Development Conference
BY ERIN MERDINGER
Throw strikes early and don’t allow a hit, that’s Johnny Volk’s forward-looking strategy as a pitcher for the pioneers baseball team.
“Being a pitcher, you have to really think,” says Volk, a junior at Cal State East Bay. “It’s more like a chess match where you have to plan out your pitches beforehand, and go ahead and execute them.”
In recognition of his contributions to the University on and off the playing field, Volk was chosen to represent Cal State East Bay at the 2009 National Collegiate Athletic Association’s National Student-Athlete Development Conference in May. One of 700 student-athletes selected from universities across the country, Volk was the first CSUEB student to attend the conference.
“It was a tremendous honor and blessing to go,” Volk says. “There were great ideas not just about sports but about building character.”
The conference provides NCAA student-athletes with a forum to openly discuss opportunities and challenges on their campuses and in their communities, while also providing training designed to improve their leadership, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
The conference, held in Orlando, Florida, at the Walt Disney World Coronado Spring Resort, consisted of daily team sessions, exercises, speakers, and activities to help participants develop as individuals and as contributing members of society.
Volk serves as president of the CSUEB Student-Athlete Advisory Council, which coordinates with Associated Students Inc. to organize athletic events and fundraisers. One of the council’s main projects is earning money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation by organizing barbecues, face painting before games, and dances.
“Nothing gets done, if you aren’t proactive,” says Volk, a business administration major.
Volk’s goals for SAAC include creating what he calls “Pete’s Pit,” an official CSUEB student Pioneers cheering section during athletic games to increase school spirit.
Growing up with three younger siblings, Volk has always assumed a leadership role.
“I try to lead by example by giving the younger kids someone to look up to and the older guys someone to relate to,” Volk says.
Pitching coach Michael Cabrera, who has worked with Volk for the past two years, says he’s observed notable growth in Volk’s leadership skills. Cabrera compares Volk’s leadership transition as moving from the little brother surrounded by senior ball players to becoming the big brother of the team.
Volk received the “Pioneers Award” at the team’s end-of-season banquet in May. Pioneers Baseball Coach Dirk Morrison says the award annually goes to an athlete who demonstrates qualities such as preparation, leadership, confidence, and accountability.
“He likes to see things done the correct way, and he gets satisfaction from that,” Morrison says. “He is accountable and takes responsibility for his performance.”
Morrison also notes Volk’s good sense of humor, especially how he has mastered the art of imitating the way teammates stand at bat.
“(The players) enjoy it, and they all want to get their stances mimicked by him,” Morrison says.
Volk recalls a time when his team was waiting in the airport for a flight to Texas.
“Who am I?” Volk shouted as he grabbed a baseball bat and swung it high over his shoulder in an exaggerated hitting pose. Turning around, Volk noticed that people passing by in the airport had stopped to watch, and his teammates roared with laughter.
“Having a good sense of humor is important because it lightens up the tension from the game,” says Volk, whose favorite pastimes include watching professional sports, playing golf, and visiting Bay Area beaches.
Students from NCAA’s three sporting divisions attended the national conference in Orlando. Each division sends up to 233 student-athletes. The 2008-09 school year was the last in which Pioneer teams participated in Division III and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. During the fall, CSUEB’s athletic program begins its first year of exploratory membership in Division II. The University announced its intention to move to Division II and join the California Collegiate Athletic Association in May 2008.
“I do think as we move to Division II, and as SAAC continues to develop, that we will see more Cal State East Bay student-athletes having national opportunities to develop their leadership skills,” says Debby De Angelis, CSUEB’s Director of Athletics. “John is an outstanding choice to be our first representative.”
“College sports is only one chapter in your life,” Volk says. “But being a good leader is for the rest of your life.”