Talk Story: Charles Woolfork

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Island School Athletic Director Charles Woolfork poses Wednesday on the school’s campus in Puhi.

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Island School Athletic Director Charles Woolfork stops for a photo Wednesday at the entrance to the school campus in Puhi.

If you’ve been to an Island School game this past year, you’ve more than likely heard a distinct voice from the stands cheering on the Voyagers.

Sometimes, you’ll hear a loud and elongated “Yeah!” Sometimes, you’ll hear a chant to cheer an individual, e.g., “Reece the Beast!”

That is the voice of school athletic director Charles Woolfork. The Cincinnati native is in his first year as a teacher and AD at Island School.

Why does he make his presence felt so much? It’s the only way he knows how to be a fan, which he is of all the Voyagers student-athletes.

“That’s what I’m there for. I’m there to cheer them on,” Woolfork said.

The Voyagers AD sat down with The Garden Island and talked about his style of fandom, taking on the responsibilities of being the AD and what brought him to Kauai.

So can you give me your athletic history? High school, college, recreational?

I started playing football when I was 11 years old for a neighborhood team. … I played from 11 years old until 21. Then, I started varsity for two years at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I played two years at Union College, defensive end position. (It’s an NAIA school.)

Defensive end. Really? Not to say you’re small, but defensive linemen are huge.

Well, I understand. I was in the same boat. I didn’t have the size or the speed to go D1 or D2, but I have heart. The coaches at Union College saw something in me, saw my potential, and decided to take a shot on me and give me some scholarship money.

You did consider a change to linebacker or DB?

Too slow. I admit it. My fastest time ever was like 4.9 (in the 40-yard dash). I was geeked to get under 5. I was like, “Yeah!”

I went to a combine, a high school combine, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Some of these guys that were easily 300-320 pounds were running 4.8s or 4.7s. Just moving, you know? Once I saw that, I was like, “Yup, on my way to D3.” It was realistic. And plus, I was just grateful to have the opportunity to play NAIA. Plus, I thought with my heart, I thought I could go Arena Football League, a minor league somewhere. Cincinnati, hopefully. They had the Cincinnati Mavericks. I was hoping to play for them.

Did you make it? Did you get a tryout?

My sophomore year, I herniated three discs in my back. I got two epidurals. So I got hurt, got an epidural and came back to the season. And then I hurt it again during spring workouts. Got another epidural, played during practice for the spring game, I hurt it and I was done.

It was my fault though. I was lifting weights improperly. I didn’t squat properly until after I got hurt. I was always squatting improperly. I was messing around in the weight room one day, and boom. I felt it. You know, it was just fate. Like, “You know what? You need to focus more on this teaching thing than this football thing.”

You always wanted to be a teacher, even before playing college ball?

Yeah. Around my high school senior year, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. Two of my football coaches, Dan Starkey and Mike Corson, they both allowed me to be myself and developed me as a leader on the football field. They allowed this goofy dude, this goofball of a guy, to lead the team in some ways and be a staple in that defensive line.

You teach here at Island School?

Yes, I’m a teacher here. I teach phys. ed. and weight training.

How long have you been here?

This is my first year.

How did you make your way to Kauai? It’s far away from Cincy.

Yeah. So, I got married in 2013 to a Canadian.

Congratulations.

Thank you. She’s a naturopath, and she came out here … in 2014 to do a course on therapy. She came back again that summer. She calls me like, “Hey, you want to move to Kauai?” I’m like, “Yeah! Of course.” There were no second thoughts.

So, came over here. There was only two stipulations. No. 1, I had to be able to have my certificate, my education license, transfer over without taking a practice test. That standardized practice test to become a teacher in Kentucky, oh, my God. It was the worst. There was so much studying. It was not a fun test. I did not have fun doing that. And No. 2, I just had to be a blessing somewhere. That’s about it.

So, my degree transferred over flawlessly. I started substitute teaching within three or four months of getting here. Boom, I was on my way. … I was subbing from Waimea Canyon to Hanalei.

So, when did you become the AD?

I became the AD in June of 2017.

It became available, I learned about it around April. People from the Island School community said, “Hey, you should apply for that job.” I was like, “Yeah. OK, of course.” So the head of school, Shannon Graves, is from Cincinnati, Ohio. We had a rapport from before, and he was real nice. Yeah. He gave me a nice interview, people here really supported me, and they brought me in around June.

For people who don’t know, what is it that ADs do?

Athletic director, No. 1, support the kids. From my point of view, support the kids and build a culture. With supporting the kids, every child likes to feel as though they’re important. Everybody likes to feel that they are important. So supporting them, not only, “Hey, go out there and play a sport.” But “Hey, you did a heck of a job last night. Good job.” So, making sure I support them in every way possible, and building a culture of a championship mindset around everything.

Adversity is just adversity. It’s an challenge you can overcome. Obstacles are going to come, but you can surpass those obstacles if you put your mind to it. You can do anything you truly put your mind to. That’s real. So, just building that within them.

Hiring coaches and supporting them. With hiring coaches, there’s not a whole lot coaches on the island it feels like sometimes. Kauai and Kapaa (high school) be gobbling them up left and right. So, I hired a few coaches and it worked out. Supporting them as far as making sure the parents come to me if they have any type of issues. … And, supporting them as far as being loyal to them. There may have been something that they screwed up on, or there may have been something that doesn’t necessarily culture, but we’re all learning together. So, let’s work this out. I know the coaches are doing the best the can.

Was there a learning curve when you first started as the AD?

There was definitely a learning curve. My ambitions got in the way of my humility. I was like, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that,” instead of watching and listening and really seeing the law of the land, and really seeing what type of arsenal that I have as far as what resources with the kids, how things were done in the past and how we can make them better, or keeping things the same way and holding on to those traditions.

I was just gung-ho about everything — lack of organization and at times lack of detail. I was just not the greatest leader. As time went on, and after bumping my head time after time, I learned that I do have to listen. I learned it’s better be humble and be silent, to watch sometime and then speak up when you need to, and to pick your battles.

Kelii Morgado, the athletic director over at Kauai High, he’s been very helpful with helping me broaden my perspective and point of view, and helping me realize that my ambitions are pure but things take time to implement. Now that the year’s coming to an end, I feel more comfortable being in this position.

What are some of the rewarding and challenging aspects you’ve experienced?

The most challenging would be to implement a belief of victory or winning within some of these kids in sports, or within themselves in general. A lot of kids don’t play sports because they don’t believe they can do it or they’re scared of the process, which is to struggle in the beginning and improve over time.

I feel like this is a world where everything is so publicized because of social media, kids can be deterred from things that are going to make them look like anything other than being the best at something. So having kids do sports or having these kids believe in themselves that they’re prepared and that they can win — that they can be winners in everything that they do, not just (sports).

The best part is that support part I was talking about earlier, really letting the kids know that I care. I’m there. With that enthusiasm I show at the games, they appreciate it. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing to them when I’m yelling out, “Yeah!” It’s embarrassing sometimes, but they appreciate that I’m there.

I try to show up to everything. I’ve showed up to every single sport, except for golf so far and I’m doing that over the next two weeks. Every sport, I try to show my face and cheer for them, even when you’re not supposed to cheer. Did you know you’re not supposed to cheer in tennis?

Yeah.

I did not know that. … During play, I’m like, ”Hey, good hit!” And they’re like, “Shhhhh.” Air riflery, you can’t cheer. I used to be a caddy, so I know about golf. But that’s what I’m there for. I’m there to cheer them on.

So, the first time I saw you at a game, I could hear you in the gym yelling. I thought to myself, “Who is he? Does he have a kid playing?” Being that animated at the games, where did that come from?

You’re a fan of the (San Jose Sharks), right?

Yeah.

Have you been to a Sharks game?

Yeah.

How do you cheer when they score a point?

I lose my voice.

You go nuts, right? … I’m the same. I’m a fan. Ever since I was 17 or 18 years old, I started watching ESPN. Over time, I’ve developed to have a favorite team in every sport or a favorite player. Here, I have the opportunity to be a fan. I have the opportunity to be a fan of every student-athlete on that court, on that course or on that field. I yell like that. I lose my mind.

I support. When the chips are down, you keep fighting. That’s one thing you always hear. … It’s about perseverance more than anything.

What kind of reactions do you get at the games?

Feedback from the outside is that he’s loud and we don’t do that. They’re looking at me like, “What’s wrong with him? He’s loud. He’s aggressive. I don’t like what he’s doing.” However, this is the one thing though. When I went to a Kapaa versus Waimea game, nobody complained when I was cheering for Kapaa. When I went to a baseball game, a Little League baseball game, nobody blinked an eye when I cheered for players that I knew.

It’s not about sides when I cheer for my team. … When I cheer for my team, the way I only know how to cheer as a fan, some people may not like it. … I was surprised that nobody would cheer during a free throw. Silence. Like, “Whoa.”

When it’s always silence, most of the time it’s silence until crunch time, it blew my mind. I’m used to student sections, to cheering, all that stuff. Especially during college, at volleyball games and basketball games, I was always cheering for my team.

Some people didn’t like it as much. At times, people were worried about my image. But, I’m only doing me. And the kids, they appreciate it. When the kids start asking, “Hey, are you coming to our game?” that’s when I know something’s up. That’s when I know I’m doing something well. “Hey, you coming to our game?” “Darn right I am.”

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