Hardwick, News

Wildcat Athletics in Good Hands Under Sowunmi

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Oluwwdare (Olu) Sowunmi

by Ken Brown

HARDWICK – First year Hazen Union athletic director Oluwwdare (Olu) Sowunmi has his first whirlwind Wildcat basketball season under his belt and is settling in nicely in his new position after a challenging transition period for the school and community following the tragic death of former Hazen A.D. Jared Cushing last Fall.

Sowunmi was hired by Hazen just before the start of the high school basketball season and has helped stabilize the Wildcat athletics program and help heal a hurting student body and community that was struggling from the sudden loss of Cushing.

He graduated from Castleton University in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and has since completed a Master of Science with a focus in Athletic Leadership. He also played five years of varsity basketball at Castleton, earning Team MVP honors in his graduate year. He credits the support of a large group of people at Hazen Union and in the Hardwick community for his successful transition and thoroughly enjoyed the fervor and support for Hazen basketball by students, parents, and fans the past four months.

“The high school basketball experience here at Hazen is just great! The lights, atmosphere, and energy from the crowd was awesome and it was nice to see a community be able to come out again and support and enjoy their teams without having to wear masks. The transition was rough at first in a very delicate situation, but I just wanted to try to make an impact on the kids here as soon as possible and let them know that I wasn’t just here for them, but here to stay. Principal Jason Di Giulio and Kasey Potter (associate principal) really welcomed me in, checked in on me, and gave me all the support I could ask for. John Sperry (former Hazen A.D) cares deeply for this school and this community and gave a lot of his time to show me the ropes and continues to do so. There is great culture here and head coach Aaron Hill got me up to speed on a lot of things throughout the basketball season and Dorothy Hill has been a huge help updating the social media side, posting pictures, and keeping the community informed during a very busy time. There’s been so many people who have welcomed me in and been so helpful and I couldn’t be more grateful,” said Sowunmi.

Sperry had retired from Hazen after 16 years plus of service, but stepped in immediately to help after the tragic events last October. He spoke of Olu’s passion to learn the job and positive energy after spending some time with him this past winter and coach Hill echoed those same sentiments after navigating through his first basketball season at Hazen.

“I think he is a wonderful addition to Hazen athletics. First of all, he has high character and he is sincere in everything that he does, so he gained the trust of players and coaches very quickly. He is great with the kids and is able to relate to them well. He also is very supportive and is always asking how he can help us. We are very lucky to have him as our athletic director,” said Hill.

As Sowunmi turns the page to Spring athletics, he noted that softball will again be offered to Hazen Union student athletes at Peoples Academy and to middle school baseball players at Craftsbury Academy. Wildcat baseball will be on their quest to return back to the Division III state title game under head coach Spencer Howard and the middle school and high school track and field programs will continue to be developed under head coach Kathy Fortmann. As he continues to get his feet underneath him, Olu hopes to create a Student Advisory Council at Hazen Union very soon. He found the one he had at Castleton University extremely helpful and wished he had that same support system at the high school level.

“My experiences as a high school student athlete was that I never really had a voice. The Student Advisory Council will help provide that for the kids here at Hazen and allow their needs and ideas to be heard. I don’t want to be the only voice making the decisions on what we do with the money that we raise for the athletic programs here at Hazen throughout the year. We’ll appoint two delegates from each grade (9-12) and the students will have an opportunity to have their ideas and needs heard. I’m excited for the next sports season here at Hazen,” said Sowunmi.

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