SJ-O's Wolken proud of program
Randy Wolken has the most wins in IHSA history.
He has numerous regional titles.
He has numerous sectional titles.
He has numerous appearances at state.
He even has a state title.
And now he will have a softball field named after him.
At the February St. Joseph-Ogden Board of Education meeting the board approved naming the softball field after the legendary coach.
“I am very honored and surprised by the SJ-O softball field being named ‘Randy Wolken Field’,” Wolken said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be honored in this way.”
Wolken said the honor was an emotional one.
“It is hard to express how this makes me feel without thinking of all the players, coaches, administrators in the past that have contributed to our softball success,” he said. “My daughter Kristi, son Brad, and, of course, my wife Lana have had a huge impact on me in all the years of coaching here at SJ-O. They, just like me, have had to make many sacrifices such as the many times I have missed their school functions, could not attend family gatherings and returned home late for meals. But there was an understanding by all four of us that this was a part of being a coach’s family.”
St. Joseph resident Greg Knott was on the committee that approached the board about naming the softball field after Wolken.
“Randy Wolken is a pioneer in Illinois girls’ athletics,” Knott said.
Wolken said the label of pioneer could be given to his entire staff and said the program’s success was a team effort.
“As far as me being called a ‘pioneer’ for female sports, I feel that my coaching staff has worked hard to do things the right way without cutting corners,” he said. “Here at SJ-O we have tried new ideas where some have worked very well. We are not afraid to do things differently. We are known for our short game in many places in the state. Teams know when they play us they have to be prepared to stop more than one facet of the game. We might bunt when many don’t think it is possible. We like to run the bases and be aggressive every chance we can.”
When Wolken was hired as a math teacher at SJ-O, he also was hired to be the boys’ basketball coach. In addition, he agreed to coach softball.
“I have to thank Bob Yeazel for ‘making’ me coach softball when I told him no and he would not accept that answer,” Wolken said. “He saw something that I did not see. Coaching the softball team has been so fulfilling for me in a number of ways. To name a few, the respect that the players have for the program, the assistance the parents give to the program, the assistant coaches working long hours to help, and seeing the young ladies moving on to new challenges in their lives.”
Knott said Wolken’s leadership has made the program successful.
“Randy immediately set high standards for the program and instilled in the girls a will to succeed on both the diamond and in the classroom,” Knott said. “These high standards paced the way for the SJ-O girls to win their first regional championship in 1982, when the IHSA only had one class in the tournament.”
Knott said Wolken has maintained the high standards he set for the program for more than three decades, and his influence on his players goes beyond the diamond.
Wolken said his players’ success on and off the diamond is one of the many reasons he enjoys coaching at SJ-O.
“One of the many reasons I enjoy coaching at SJ-O is the fact that our administration does a great job balancing the academics and athletic programs,” Wolken said. “Lana (his wife) and I both graduated from SJ-O, and we feel we are a part of the close community that supports not only the athletics but all other aspects of the school.”
Wolken said the community support of the softball team is important not only to him but the athletes.
“They come out for the home games, and when it comes regional and sectional time they are there to support,” he said. “I feel this community takes some pride in the softball program knowing the players and coaches will prepare the best they can. Many hours are spent getting ready for each game. I am proud to say that many of our players have gone on to colleges with a lot of success.”
Knott told Wolken about the honor in late February.
“I did not know it was even a possibility,” Wolken said. “It really took me off guard the night he told me. He told me right before one of my recent practices, and I have to say I had a hard time concentrating at practice that night.”
Knott said it made sense for Wolken to be honored.
“The committee thought it was appropriate to honor Randy with the naming of the field because of the tremendous success he has had in shaping the lives of so many female athletes,” Knott said. “Randy has conducted himself with utmost integrity, and this had translated to the success his teams have had over the last 35 years.”
On April 26, Wolken will be honored during a doubleheader against Momence. Knott said details of the event will be announced soon. All former SJ-O softball players are invited to attend.
Any questions about the event can be directed to Knott at 217-841-6142 or firstname.lastname@example.org.