Alumni Create Endowed Scholarship to Benefit Athletics Students
Written by Camille Dolan ’98
The Woolm family aims to help student-athletes who have experienced or overcome adversity in their lives.
JD Woolm ’97 grew up in Fort Myers playing sports all his life, including collegiate football. He knew that sports would be part of his life forever.
“The camaraderie, the competition, the everything,” JD says. “Even if nothing was going right at the time, I knew that the day’s practice or game was going to be great. I could count on sports.”
Tricia Woolm ’00 moved from Wisconsin to the East coast of Florida when she was 9 years old. She was not involved in sports, but she, too, knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. She had her own daily “practice” by setting up her stuffed animals and “teaching” them. She works at Partin Elementary School in Oviedo.
JD Woolm works in sales at Paychex, a human resources, payroll and software management company, and he has served as a coach in various community teams throughout the years.
The Woolms are also parents to Eva and Kellen, and the family has had season tickets to UCF Athletics for over 20 years. Kellen, in fact, almost had his arrival at a UCF home football game when Tricia was nine months pregnant. (Family photo courtesy of JD Woolm)
JD and Tricia laugh about it now; their dedication to the Knights, and their vigilance to make sure their parking space at the Citrus Bowl was not impeded so they could make a quick exit if they had to.
But Kellen waited until a few days later, thankfully. And he was at the new stadium on campus on opening day nine months later.
UCF has been family to the Woolms and their extended family: JD’s sister and brother-in-law, a nephew and niece, and Tricia’s brother and sister-in-law are all alumni or currently attending.
“We had wanted to establish a scholarship before,” JD says. “We’ve always given back and as the years have gone by, we’ve talked about doing something that would last forever, and to have something in our name that our grandchildren — and their grandchildren — can always be proud of.”
Establishing the endowed Woolm Family Foundation Overcoming Adversity Scholarship Fund will do exactly what the Woolms envision. An endowed scholarship means that the balance of the scholarship fund will never change, yet students will benefit from its accrued interest through awarded scholarships each year, in perpetuity.
“Tricia and I know that so many UCF student-athletes have sacrificed and overcome a lot to get to where they are now,” JD says. “We want to pay homage to them, and to also recognize our son, Kellen, who has overcome so much in his 16 years.”
Shortly after Kellen was born, he developed infant jaundice, a yellow discoloration of a newborn baby’s skin and eyes. It usually occurs because the baby’s liver isn’t mature enough to get rid of bilirubin in the bloodstream but resolves itself within a few days.
The Woolms were concerned when Kellen’s jaundice lingered. Doctors told the couple that Kellen had Biliary Atresia, a rare disease of the bile ducts and the liver where bile is blocked from flowing into the intestine and can cause complications in the liver. If uncorrected, it can lead to a condition called “failure to thrive,” which is defined as decelerated or arrested growth or development and ultimately lead to the need for a liver transplant.
Kellen’s surgeons (Dr. Ross Morgan and Dr. David Miller) recommended a procedure where they replace the blocked bile ducts and the gallbladder with a segment of the patient’s intestine. “The surgery was scheduled for New Year’s Eve,” Tricia Woolm says. “They opened the operating room for us, and after it was over, we were walking back to the Ronald McDonald House, and we saw fireworks in the distance.”
The Woolms now have a very different idea of New Year celebrations, they said.
Kellen is now 6 feet 4 inches tall and plays basketball and Volleyball at Hagerty High School. He surpassed his dad in height a few months ago, much to JD’s chagrin.
“I didn’t come to grips with the fact that he was taller until about six months ago,” JD says. “And then one day, we stood back-to-back with a level on our heads — and I think I actually pulled something in my neck as I was trying to be taller, but eventually I gave up.”
Kellen still goes for checkups on his liver function. After each good report, his liver specialist of 16 years, Dr. Regino Gonzalez, will round up any interns in the office and introduce them to his model patient. Don’t always believe a prognosis of failure to thrive, they say. Look at him.
“We know that Kellen is our example of overcoming adversity,” Tricia says, “But we know there are so many more students who work every day to overcome things in their own lives.”
The Woolm family’s long history with UCF athletics includes not only going to as many games as they can — football, volleyball, basketball, softball — but also their history of talking to the players and the coaches to kind of gently guide their children to the newest Big 12 school when it’s time for them to choose.
“We’ve had so many family members that have gone here, and our kids have been able to hang out with different players, and we weren’t even donors at the time,” JD says. “UCF is our family, and we are grateful and honored to be able to give back through our scholarship.”