- Wayne Block has been at CNU for more than a quarter of a century
- He and his wife will retire to Arizona
- Block feels the addition of football energized the campus
Wayne Block was a big-city kid steeped in big-city sports. He was a ballboy for the New York Knicks, a student assistant on Howard Cosell's radio show and a part-time statistician for the New York Nets.
How ironic, then, that this child of Manhattan made a career of Division III college sports and a home in rural southeastern Virginia.
Block is retiring after 27 years as Christopher Newport University's primary sports publicist, a job he accepted as a part-timer in 1983. Now designated the assistant to the athletic director for communications, Block has seen the campus and athletic department mushroom from a sleepy commuter college to a vibrant, in-demand university with a football team and first-rate facilities.
Block's final day is Monday, the day after he turns 65. CNU president Paul Trible was among scores of friends and co-workers who attended a farewell gathering Tuesday and presented Block and his wife, Linda, with gifts such as a 28-game, season-ticket package for the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Blocks purchased their retirement home in suburban Phoenix last spring — a photo of the house is Block's screensaver — and the next year is reserved for cleaning out their Seaford digs and preparing for the move.
The baseball tickets were the ideal send-off, for Block is a seamhead, a diehard Mets fan who one 1962 afternoon at the Polo Grounds convinced the Cardinals' Stan Musial to toss him a Gil Hodges home-run ball that had bounced back onto the field. The home run happened to be Hodges' 370th, then 10th all-time, and landed the 17-year-old Block on Ralph Kiner's post-game television show.
Block is quick is thank co-workers such as athletic director/basketball coach C.J. Woollum, director of athletic communications Francis Tommasino, former men's soccer coach Seth Roland, former assistant SID Dave Gosselin and the late Wendy Weisend, who was his boss in Virginia Tech's sports information office.
"I've always tried to operate here in as much of a Division I manner as I could, without the budget," Block said. "I try to say this immodestly, but those folks helped us (create) probably the best Division III sports information office in the country."
Earlier this week, we met Block in his well-appointed Freeman Center office, a far cry from the out-of-use biology lab he once shared temporarily with Roland, Woollum and a boxed-up cadaver.
Q: You'd had many jobs. Sports information at Virginia Tech and C.W. Post, sportswriter in Albany, local radio. At what point did you think this might be a destination job?
A: It was very gradual, no question, because I was glad to be full-time that second year, but I was full-time without benefits. I gave up the benefits I had at the radio station because I really enjoyed being back in this kind of work. I realized how much I missed it. I didn't get benefits for 11 years.
Q: Twenty-seven years. How many hours or miles in a state van would that translate to?
A: I can't even begin to imagine. You talk about a state van, though. I was with the women's basketball team back in the '80s and I learned a phrase. … One of the girls calls out, "So-and-so just fell out!" I thought the back door of the van had opened up and somebody fell out of the van. Apparently that means fainted. I had never heard that before.
Q: Is the addition of football (in 2001) the biggest change you've witnessed?
A: Other than the physical plant, oh absolutely. It's been amazing what it's done for this campus. … It's just energized it.
Q: Are there benchmark moments and games that stick out?
A: Somewhat. This past women's basketball season is one of the greatest things I've been through. C.J. and his team went 26-2 that one year (1997-98) and had a 26-game winning streak, but it wasn't the same because they'd lost that first game (of the season). … Being undefeated the whole (regular) season and watching (All-American) Chelsie (Schweers), she's just never ceases to amaze me.
Q: This has been a family affair. Just talk about Linda.
A: The first date we ever had was back in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech at a football game. I was in the press box, and she was in the stands because women weren't allowed in the press box. She probably would have volunteered to help, but women weren't allowed. And after the game we had to drive to Roanoke with press releases to put in the mail, and we also took the game film to Roanoke to be developed. Literally right from the beginning here she helped in every possible way.
Q: Any harrowing road trips?
A: You should ask CJ. In 1991, his first really great team, the team that went to the Sweet 16 when Lamont (Strothers) was a senior, we had a game scheduled at Guilford. It was a Saturday game and we'd had an ice storm here. Terrible. And he was so anxious to get that game in because we were having such a good season, that he actually got us a bus — we normally traveled in vans — and it took us eight hours to get from here to Greensboro.
On the way down we stopped and had lunch in Emporia and going back to the bus I slipped, went on my back and I believe I actually cracked a couple of ribs. I could barely breathe, but I didn't say anything. We won the game — Lamont made a last-second shot. Then we had to turn right around and come back. Another eight-hour trip, and at one point just after we left Greensboro on I-40, the bus slid into the median and back onto the road.
Q: Do you have a greater appreciation of Division III athletes since they compete without scholarships?
A: That's one of the reasons I've been here so long. What these kids do, receiving nothing in return except maybe a pair of sneakers. They do it all just because it's what they really, really love to do. And that makes me feel like I want to do as much as we can do for them.
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