Springfield College is either notoriously known as the sports mecca where James Naismith invented the peach basket phenomenon that is basketball, or as the alma mater of the world-renowned WWE wrestler, John Cena. However, what most people do not know is that the institution once known as a “jock school” has some significant educational history as well.
At the end of the Roaring 1920’s and throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, Dr. Peter V. Karpovich, a Russian physician who attended Springfield College as a student in 1925, implemented a path of study that included a mix of sports and science, which became known as Exercise Physiology. In 1955, Springfield College’s modern version of Karpovich, Vincent Paolone, toured Springfield College with his much older brother, Al, who had received his Master’s degree under the tutelage of the “Godfather” of Exercise Physiology, Karpovich.
At the time of the visit, Paolone was only 8 years old and had just experienced the death of his father. On top of the devastating circumstance, both of his brothers, who were 13 and 14 years older than him, were leaving the family household to pursue life goals. The Paolone family-filled house right outside of Philadelphia had dwindled to two, Vincent and his mother, in the span of a year.
So, not only was Paolone disinterested in visiting the school that stands tall at 263 Alden Street, but his sense of family had just been ripped from underneath him.
“There were some points in time, when I felt that I got the bad hand in the deck and constantly thought about why this had to happen to me.” stated Paolone.
His life was turned upside down at such a young age, which triggered his focus on establishing himself in a family and a profession.
Fast forward 60 years, and we find Paolone now in his 27th year of teaching Exercise Physiology at Springfield College. He received his educational doctorate degree (EdD) from Temple University and has published more than 50 scientific papers for periodicals such as the Annals of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. However, Paolone is defined by more than just the doctoral letters and the publications associated with his name. Rather, his persona is better characterized by his interwoven love for family and his love for instilling knowledge and integrity into his students.
Between the time that 8-year-old Paolone wandered the streets of Springfield and now, he has regained his sense of a complete family unit. He met his wife, Liz, at West Chester State College and has been married for 47 years. He also has two children (Jeffrey and Amy) and two grandchildren (Abigail and Emma). Jeffrey Paolone said, “Growing up, my dad never knew what it was like to have a father figure and a complete family, so he wants to make sure that his whole unit is complete and full.”
There is nothing in Vincent’s mind that is more important than family, and that is immediately obvious when people walk into his office. Paolone’s desk has an array of pictures, but the majority of the frames consist of his “complete unit”, especially his grandchildren.
His love for his grandchildren is profound. In 2012, Paolone took Abigail and Emma to the National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., for “Boo at the Zoo” day, and he surpassed all expectations when he dressed up as a tight-clothed Peter Pan. The loving expressions of Paolone do not go unnoticed by his two granddaughters.
“Whenever Pop Pop walks in the house, no one else can be there,” Jeffrey said. “They love him more than life itself.”
“My sense of family developed a little later when I met my wife in college, and her father became the father that I’ve never had. I looked up to him tremendously,” Paolone said. He has learned that no matter what the circumstances are, family is always there for one another.
In August of 2015, Paolone’s wife overcame her second bout of breast cancer. The unrelenting disease impacted not only his wife, but his whole family.
“It was the most difficult thing that we’ve had to deal with as a family, and at every other moment you’re thinking about it,” Paolone said.
Frequently, cancer causes a hazardous family environment by creating a strength grip on the “whole unit”. Every time people think negatively about the situation, the grip gets tighter and tighter, never letting go. Once people stop dwelling on the worst perceived possible outcomes and start to focus on the needed requirements to overcome the dreadful disease, that is when people start to beat cancer.
After having experienced the strength grip of cancer twice, the Paolone family has learned how to stay upbeat and confident. They, as a “unit”, have never let cancer beat them, and never will. Paolone said, “You never get over it, you just get better at dealing with it. But, fortunately for us, she is 100 percent better now.”
Whenever Paolone has family difficulties or personal problems, he always has his family members and teaching profession at Springfield College to lean on. Regarding his wife’s diagnoses, teaching became his escape.
“Teaching was the only time in the day when I wasn’t thinking about it. It was the only place where I could go and focus so much on what I was doing, where I could forget about it for a little while.” Paolone said.
Other than family, teaching Exercise Physiology at Springfield College has been his one constant in life since 1989. Ever since the first day that he set foot into a Springfield College classroom, he has used a foreign style of teaching. He lectures without the use of visual aids and expects the students to write down the necessary bits of information.
“He never uses technology, such as power points, as a form of lecturing.” said Kathryn Lewis, a doctoral student in the Exercise Physiology program. During the lectures, Paolone gets very passionate and enthusiastic about the educational topics at hand, which sometimes stimulates high-pitched screeching noises.
Paolone realizes that he is not hip with the 2015 technology, but he also knows that students pay more attention when their only source of information is straight from the loud-speaking and engaging 69-year-old professor. Paolone puts the responsibility on the students to gather the information and perform well academically.
Even though the lecture material is taught in an old-fashioned manner, many of the students scurry out of the classroom dazed by how much material they were able to soak in during a 50 minute class.
“The standard that we are held to is awesome because we are pushed to a higher level of learning,” said Karleigh Bradbury, a second year master student in the Exercise Physiology Program. “He has completely changed my life.”
Almost every class is started with a detestable 20 question “true or false” quiz. Even though the class erupts in cheers on the glorious days that Paolone does not pull a stack of papers out of his green briefcase, the quizzes force the students to stay on top of the material throughout the semester.
Paolone’s unusual techniques have translated to respectable grades from the students and also an increase in student interest for Exercise Physiology.
“As much as I cursed him after the first exam, I left his class blown away from how much I learned,” Lewis said. That seems to be a consistent trend with most of his students. Due to the respect that Paolone has earned from his students and Exercise Physiology colleagues, Paolone was granted “The Outstanding Excellence in Teaching Award” in 2012 by the students and faculty at Springfield College.
On top of having an extensive knowledge base covering Karpovich’s educational construct, Paolone also prides himself on the three defining characteristics of his Phi Chi Omicron fraternity at West Chester State College: Friendship, leadership, and character.
“That might be where I got it from. Maybe that’s why I expect so much out of you guys. Maybe that’s why I preach to you guys the way I do about being honest and having integrity. Those things are very important, something that no one can take away from you,” Paolone said.
Throughout his life, both at home and at school, Paolone has preached the importance of having strong values and being true to oneself. No matter the circumstances, there is no room for dishonesty, especially in the eyes of Paolone. The brave soul that even thinks about participating in the wandering eye game, will lose a seat in the classroom, and much worse, the respect of the 69-year-old professor.
Dean of Springfield College’s School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation and also a longtime friend of Paolone, Tracey Matthews said, “He has strong values, and he is committed to teaching his students.” When people take Paolone’s class, they are not just earning an education – they are learning life skills that they can take with them the rest of their lives.
From the time that Paolone lost his father to today, he has worked hard to shape his life. He has a family that he can call his own, and he has added significantly to the lengthy history of the Exercise Physiology program at Springfield College. No one knows – not even Paolone – how much longer he will continue to a hold a spot as a member of the Springfield College faculty.
However, Paolone will always be a part of the Springfield College family, and his final words of each class will continue to resonate throughout the halls of Locklin and the Exercise Physiology department: “Have a good one. Stay out of trouble, will ya?”