by Mark Fleming, Moravian College Sports Information Director
When Tim Volkmann made his way from the United States Military Academy to NCAA Division III SUNY Geneseo in 2013 as he returned to the athletic communications field, he never thought that he would be in a position having to deal with a string of tragedies affecting the Geneseo community.
All of that changed on Jan. 17, 2016 when Geneseo's senior women's basketball student-athlete Kelsey Annese and junior men's ice hockey player Matt Hutchinson died in an apparent double-murder suicide. And just when everything seemed to be getting back to normal at Geneseo this past fall, a freshman women's basketball player passed away in a car accident in December 2016 as she headed out of town on her way home for the holiday break.
After helping his university and community navigate through these traumas, Volkmann is receiving the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Bill Esposito Award for his professionalism and work during the tragedies. The Bill Esposito Award is presented to a CoSIDA member who displays sound judgment and unusual courage in taking a stand on intercollegiate athletics which is contrary to public opinion and sentiment or who displays sound judgment and unusual courage in guiding their institutions through difficult public relations situations.
As SUNY Geneseo's Director of Athletic Communications, Volkmann worked closely with David Irwin, Geneseo's campus Media Relations Director, on a plan to work with the public communications and media coverage in January of 2016.
Volkmann drew on his experience — he has held athletic media relations positions at Springfield College, University of Rhode Island and Army, while also directing development and fundraising for the Army A Club — to prepare to handle the crises.
"I probably worked as closely with Tim as anyone in handling the multiple phases of crisis management that we faced," Irwin said. "He was instrumental in handling the initial onslaught of media that descended onto the campus seeking input from athletes and coaches on the impact that Kelsey and Matt had on the campus and community.
"Tim gave sage advice and worked hard on the preparation of a campus remembrance event that drew some 1,000 from the campus and community as well as numerous media from the surrounding area, including Buffalo and Rochester. After the season, Tim was involved in tree planting ceremonies in remembrance of the fallen athletes."
Geneseo's men's ice hockey team would go on to play in the 2016 NCAA Division III Frozen Four while the women's basketball team reached the second round of the NCAA DIII Tournament. While dealing with its second tragedy this season, the women's basketball squad finished the regular season at 25-0 and hosted the opening two rounds of the NCAA DIII Tournament before completing the year at 28-2 with a spot in the round of 16.
Volkmann has continued to handle all the media/interview requests that continued through the end of both the hockey and basketball seasons over the last two years, including ones for feature stories that appeared in USA Today and in the New York Times.
"Tim was absolutely incredible during a very difficult time for the players in our program," commented Geneseo head women's basketball coach Scott Hemer. "The attention that our team received was overwhelming at first and continued through the end of this season. Throughout, Tim not only handled all aspects of media contact and coverage, but also managed a very delicate set of emotions for players and coaches alike with the utmost professionalism. It takes a unique person to have the patience and understanding to perform diligently during times of adversity and Tim exceeded expectations in all aspects."
From his column "A Good View" posted on Geneseo's website this past January (http://www.geneseoknights.com/general/2016-17/releases/20170117d87jzt), Volkmann sums up his experience with the tragedies this way.
"In the days, weeks and months that followed, I've come to realize how lucky I am to work with so many amazing people. Countless hands and minds from every corner of campus came together to pick up the pieces and start the long road back. Administrators and SIDs from other schools reached out in droves, many of which I had never even met before, just say they were thinking about us and everything was going to be OK.
"It was incredible to witness how much goodness people have, and how much they truly care for one another in the face of such circumstances. We all need to make it a point to not only recognize, but celebrate the good that surrounds us on a regular basis and not save it for when tragedy strikes. These days especially, we all need to realize the amount of good that exists in the world, instead of always focusing on the bad. Stories about firefighting hockey players don't come along that often, but they are there. You just have to look."
Geneseo began using #OneKnight in the fall of 2015 as part of a departmental fundraising campaign but in the days after the first incident in January 2016, Volkmann made the decision to switch all of Geneseo's social media logos to the #OneKnight logo and the hashtag has taken on new meaning in the past 15 months.
"In times of crisis, institutions are judged on how they respond to a tragedy as much as the tragedy itself. The college received universal praise in our handling of this difficult situation, and Tim Volkmann was greatly instrumental in that positive response," concluded Irwin.