Learning Through Basketball – Joseph Olsen, ’04

Basketball used to be Joe Olsen’s life. When he realized it would never be his livelihood he used his playing ability to get an education and build a career as a high school teacher.

Olsen graduated from Central Square’s Paul V.Moore High School in 2001. He was the all-time leading scorer and more interested in basketball than school work. Olsen went to SUNY Potsdam and lasted less than a month. He returned to Central New York and stayed busy doing odd jobs.

In between working and playing pickup basketball games Olsen ran into a friend who recommended he contact OCC Men’s Basketball Coach Dave Pasiak about playing there. Olsen took his advice, met with Pasiak and learned he would need to take and pass four courses during the summer to become eligible. Olsen decided to go for it. “I wasn’t the most disciplined student but coach stayed on me about it and it made a difference.”

Joe Olsen scored a College record 1,493 points in his two seasons at OCC.

Joe Olsen scored a College record 1,493 points in his two seasons at OCC.

Olsen spent two years at OCC, became the College’s all-time leading scorer and matured as a student. “I credit basketball with shining a light on the importance of school work. It began with the need to stay eligible and developed to the point where I was starting to become a good student. Coach Pasiak was a huge part of my success. He always stressed to be a good person and teammate, focus on academics, work hard and everything would fall into place. He really inspired me to be a good man.”

Olsen earned a degree in Business Administration in 2004 and transferred to Daemen College.  He played basketball and continued to grow as a student but was unsure about a career path. “I had a friend who was a teacher in Syracuse who kept telling me how much he enjoyed teaching. He thought I would be a good teacher.” Around the time Olsen graduated from Daemen he made the decision to become a teacher.

Olsen got his master’s in education at SUNY Oswego and went to work teaching business classes. He spent a year at Schenectady High School, then a year at West Genesee High School. Olsen had just been hired to teach at Whitesboro High School when basketball led him back to his alma mater. During a pickup game with a current Central Square teacher Olsen learned about an opening there for a business teacher. Olsen applied, interviewed and got the job.

Five years later Olsen is teaching sports management and video design, two business classes he created at Central Square. “If someone would have told me when I was 18 I was going to be a teacher in Central Square I would have laughed in their face. Now I really see the value in it and enjoy helping young people. My goal is to prepare students for what they are going to do after high school. It’s really important.”

Olsen is continuing his education at SUNY Cortland where he is pursuing a certificate of advanced study in educational leadership. When he completes his work he’ll be ready to pursue his goal of becoming an administrator.

Head Coach Dave Pasiak (left) and Olsen in the Allyn Hall Gymnasium.

Head Coach Dave Pasiak (left) and Olsen in the Allyn Hall Gymnasium.

Olsen enjoys the opportunities to come back to OCC for alumni games and golf tournaments. “It’s great to catch up with old teammates, reflect on our time together and hear what everyone is doing now.”

Pasiak has high praise for his former player. When Olsen was inducted into the College’s Athletic Hall of Fame he referred to him as, “Not only the most outstanding player we’ve had at Onondaga but also the hardest worker and a great leader as well. He is a shining example of using the game to further himself as a person.”

“Being the all-time leading scorer here used to mean more to me than it does now,” said Olsen. “I don’t identify myself as ’Joe Olsen the basketball player’ any more. I’m proud of it but I’m more concerned with ‘Joe Olsen the teacher.’”

With his playing days behind him Olsen has become the College’s biggest cheerleader, constantly talking about the opportunities here. “I’m always promoting OCC. I had a great experience here. I can’t say enough good things about it to my students.”

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