On October 31st, Graceland welcomed a new athletic director, Graceland graduate, Joe Worlund. After graduating from Graceland in 1980 and the University of Iowa in 1982 with his master’s degree, Worlund spent all 33 of his professional years until now at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he started out as the intramural director. After becoming the assistant women’s volleyball coach in addition to intramurals, Worlund held the job of assistant athletic director until this year, when he moved to Lamoni to work for Graceland. Worlund says not a lot has changed at GU since he was a student. He says, “There is still that comfortable, homey feel from the old days on campus.”
Although Joe loved spending his entire career at Washington University, he is very excited to start a new job at his Alma Mater, and is prepared for the increase in responsibility. According to him, “At Wash U I was a little fish in a big pond, whereas at Graceland I can put my own stamp on something so I can make a noticeable difference.” He says, “My family had considered coming [to GU] when the job opened up before, but we couldn’t because our kids were still in school.” Luckily for Graceland, the job opened up again and the timing was perfect with Joe’s kids almost out of college.
The athletic director position deals with personnel management, administrative work in relation to games and coaches, and enrollment for athletes. Worlund spent his first few weeks meeting all of the teams and observing others in the athletic department. One of Worlund’s first and biggest changes has been to start the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), a group consisting of a student from each team with the goal of having more direct contact with students. Joe uses the council to discuss scheduling issues and to make sure that there is a time set aside regularly for student representatives to speak up for their teammates.
SAAC isn’t the only change Joe has in store for Graceland. One of the first issues he discussed was athletic performance. Joe says, “People don’t come to college to play sports and not win. We should all be focused on excelling, or being conference champions for example.” Joe wants each team to set a goal and reach it.
Joe has a vision for the future of athletics at Graceland, and the passion he has for making a positive impact on student athletes is evident in the way he talks about his plans. Aside from performance, Joe believes another big issue at Graceland is better equipment and facilities. Joe says, “If we improve our facilities, it will not only be easier for our athletes to train, but it will attract more prospective students. We haven’t built an indoor athletic facility in fifty years. We need a ‘wow factor’ in our athletic department that will get prospective students excited about Graceland.”
Luckily, Joe has many plans in the works to make changes happen. Joe imagines more gym space for intramurals and varsity sports, but also for students to simply relax and be active. An ideal athletic department has space for students to simply blow off steam and shoot hopes in Joe’s eyes, and he is passionate about making it happen. He says, “Within three to five years we will have some progress made, but realistically, big changes will have to come in phases due to costs. The first phase might even just be fixing up the Closson gym, but that doesn’t really improve the issue of needing more gym space. We do a really good job with what we have but this doesn’t cover all of what we need.” Joe describes himself as a believer in “student first, athlete second” idea, and says that all of these new ideas must be sensitive to academics.
Joe says, “Graceland needs someone to dream big and push for a change.” Clearly, Graceland has found that person! Joe’s passion for student success and athletics is sure to make a big difference on campus.