There are two shelves in the equipment room of Fauver Stadium that house a collection of assorted UR sports memorabilia. A football, signed by standout wide receiver Jay Jay Vanderstyne ’08, is propped up on the top shelf; a deflated soccer ball that sports the signatures of the 2007 Sweet 16 men’s soccer team sits nestled on the bottom ledge; and a softball, caked in mud, donning the John Hancock of Jess Sorrentino ’08, is encased in plastic and situated at eye-level.
‘She was Rochester’s first All-American softball player,” UR equipment manager Dan Provenzano told me as he pointed to the scrawled signature on the face of the softball.
Then he pointed to another item and explained why he saved it on the shelf. Then another. And another.
Provenzano who is known by almost every athlete, athletic administrator and, for that matter, fan of UR athletics as ‘Provo” is in only his third year as equipment manager, but you would never know it from how much he knows about the teams and athletes and how much pride he takes in his position.
‘I love looking back and finding history in all of this,” he said as he gave me the tour of what I guess you could call his office, although that label doesn’t quite seem adequate in describing what the space actually means to Provenzano.
In three short years, the Rochester native has managed to have a profound effect on UR Athletics. Perhaps it isn’t a tangible difference, but it can undoubtedly be felt within the department last spring, at the annual Athletics banquet, when Provenzano’s name was mentioned as a member of the support staff, the crowd of athletes and coaches clapped and cheered enthusiastically.
‘I remember being told afterward that it was probably the first time anyone cheered for the equipment manager,” he recalled.
That’s because calling Provenzano just an equipment manager is kind of like calling Tiger Woods just a golfer.
For him, the job is not just about doing laundry or organizing a storeroom filled with piles of jerseys and sweats. Much of the impact he has made on UR’s athletes and administration is because he has invested so much beyond just his time into the position.
Our conversation in Fauver (the equipment room is hidden deep inside the stadium) revealed the number of ways Provenzano has gone the extra mile. It all starts with his gregarious and excitable personality. I rarely talked, mostly listened, as he jumped from one topic to the next, talking eagerly about everything from the ‘kids” as he called the athletes that he has gotten to know so far at the UR and his favorite video game (Balloon Tower Defense 3, for the record) to his love of Danforth stir fry and how he got the nickname ‘Provo” (summer camp).
At one point, he jumped up to show me the hallway, where a bulletin board was covered with pictures of UR athletes something he’s been working on since he took the job in 2006. The board was already overflowing with newspaper clippings and press photos that Provenzano has acquired over the past years, but he said he was hoping to expand it.
As we looked at the wall, he talked about the athletes and beamed like a proud parent as he went into what he sees as his role within Athletics.
‘No. 1, my goal is to positively affect the morale and spirit of the athletes,” he said. ‘I like to treat them like stars you know, do the little things to make them feel special.”
That means knowing all the players’ names and numbers, hanging up their jerseys in their lockers and being perhaps the most visible fan on the sideline of just about every sporting event just to name a few things he has done since joining the River Campus community in 2006.
Provenzano’s road to UR was anything but usual. Born and raised in Rochester, he went to John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio for undergraduate and then returned to the Rochester area to get his master’s degree in athletic administration at SUNY Brockport. From 1998 to 2005, Provenzano taught physical education at a local grade school.
In early 2005, he received some life-changing news. His doctor discovered that he had a tumor, which was later diagnosed as cancer. He underwent treatment and recovered over that summer but couldn’t return to teaching in the fall. Instead, he took a job later that year as the equipment manager of the Rochester Razorsharks and quickly realized how much he enjoyed being connected with sports culture in that capacity.
One day, as Provenzano described it, he happened to be looking at jobs online when he found an opening at UR. He applied and got the position.
‘To me, it felt like it was in the stars or something,” he explained. ‘It’s a perfect fit. I couldn’t ask for a better place.”
And while Provenzano admits that his job probably doesn’t require a master’s degree, that’s not the point. As college students, we will undoubtedly all be asking ourselves sometime in the next couple years what we want out of a career. For Provenzano, it was about finding that niche so that he could thrive in his role. It was about following his passion, so that he looks forward to going to work every day. And, most importantly, it was about finding a place where, when asked if there are any negatives to his job, he can only think of one.
‘The downfall, I guess, is that the kids are only here for four years, and then they’re gone,” Provenzano said. ‘And you have to start all over again.”
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.