By Chianna Schoenthaler
For 30 years Joe Folda’s passion for students’ success has been a defining trait on and off the court. Jackie Wallgren, the athletic director, compliance and senior woman administrator, said “He always remembers to keep our students first in everything we do. He has taught me to always go back to the fundamental question – “how does this help our students?”
For Folda, basketball has always been a major part of his life. He began playing in sixth grade and fell in love with the concept of five people working together. Throughout his career, he played as a point guard.
After graduating high school, he began playing basketball during his collegiate career at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado. Two years later he transferred to University of Northern Colorado, where he helped lead the team to appearances at the NCAA Tournament.
Upon graduating from UNC with a Bachelor of Arts in physical education, he attended Eastern Washington University for his master’s in education.
Before coaching at Colorado State University-Pueblo, Folda coached at various high schools in Colorado and Nebraska. He also coached at EWU for 11 years as graduate assistant for three years, an assistant coach for five years and as head coach for two years. After coaching at EWU, he moved to Pueblo, Colorado, to be the head coach for men’s basketball team.
Folda’s commitment to CSU-Pueblo has spanned three decades including coaching men’s basketball for 18 years, serving as the interim director of athletics for two periods and the director of athletics.
Throughout his coaching career, Folda saw different talents but one his most memorable seasons involved the players from 1991.
According to Folda, the team of 1991 was not blessed with individual talents but rather united together to get the maximum out of their abilities. The team qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Tournament. The tournament appearance helped the team become a part of the NCAA.
After serving as an interim director of athletics on two different occasions, he saw no improvement in scholarship funding for the athletes. He decided to apply for the position and received the title of director of athletics in 2005.
Nelson Kahler, an alumni of CSU-Pueblo, played for the men’s basketball team. “Coach Folda was an awesome part of the athletics department,” he said. “I would always notice him watching our practices and he would watch most of our games from what I noticed.”
As the director of athletics, Folda helped grow the athletic programs from 11 teams to 22 teams. He took on this challenge to help the university with enrollment numbers and to give students more opportunities. Along with adding the team, he helped develop the CSU-Pueblo Athletics Hall of Fame.
Cora Zalatel, the director of external affairs, said, “Joe has represented the University with class and integrity both as a basketball coach and as athletic director over the last 30 years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him in the launch of the CSU-Pueblo Athletics Hall of Fame, numerous athletic facility ribbon cuttings, and the overall expansion of our intercollegiate sports programs from 11 in 2005 to 22 in 2014.”
According to Folda, football was one of the hardest and most time-consuming sports to add to the 22 programs because it took a lot of convincing to the board in Fort Collins, Colorado. With the addition of the football program, he said “It created the biggest change in the athletics program and the biggest change in Pueblo.”
He will officially retire April 30. He plans to spend more time with his wife and 10 grandchildren, who are in Las Vegas, Nevada and Virginia. Besides spending more time with his family he also hopes to be able to fish and golf more than he has in the past 30 years.
Tracy Samora, the director of alumni relations said, “Joe Folda is a truly amazing, kind and caring man. His impact on our University, our students and alumni, faculty and staff, and the Pueblo community will be felt for years and generations to come.”
According to Folda, he hopes that the CSU-Pueblo will remember him as a staff member, who really cared overall about the university and the students.
“I have always believed strongly in the student body. There are a lot of great students,” Folda said.