By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
The Larry LaSasso Spirit Award has been presented annually since 1983 to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary spirit and support for Colorado State University athletics. The 2021 recipient is Joel Cantalamessa (B.A., ’95), who also received the CSU Alumni Association’s Graduate of the Last Decade Award in 2007.
Joel grew up in Denver and attended Cherry Creek High School. He chose to attend CSU because he fell in love with the campus and City of Fort Collins and had an opportunity to play college baseball close to home. While the varsity baseball program was dropped a year later, he didn’t consider leaving and never regretted choosing CSU.
He started his academic career as a business major but discovered his passion in an elective newswriting class. After changing his major to technical journalism, he began working at the Rocky Mountain Collegian, where he covered every CSU athletics program and served as the beat writer for football and basketball. He credits these assignments as the beginning of his love of sports journalism and, in 1994, he earned the Collegian’s Reporter of the Year award.
This amazing Ram fan holds many great memories of covering and following CSU sports. One night he will never forget was when the Rams beat No. 6-ranked Arizona on the road in a huge upset. His favorite memory of that game was Sean Moran picking up a fumble and returning it for a CSU touchdown to seal the win. He celebrated that victory with thousands of fellow Ram fans on Elizabeth Street, some even climbing light poles.
Following graduation, Joel freelanced as a sports reporter for several publications, including the Coloradoan newspaper. He later shifted professionally to marketing and business. Since 2006, he has led a small marketing agency, the Black Diamond Group, which was the long-time marketing partner for the Mountain West Conference. He has led on annual branding campaigns, radio/television commercial production, and other projects for the conference, universities, and other clients. Today, he works as director of digital marketing for Vertafore, an insurance software company based in downtown Denver.
Joel and his family are season ticket holders for football and men’s basketball and attend as many events as humanly possible, often planning life around those schedules. Even when life had other plans with the early arrival of his firstborn son on an October game day in 2002, Joel had the ESPN telecast on in the delivery room. Given that he, Laura (B.A., ’96), and children Campbell, Carley, Catelyn, and Conley live in Parker, their commitment to cheering on the Rams is impressive.
Of the many things Joel has done for CSU athletics, one he especially enjoyed was serving on the Ram Club Board of Directors for 10 years. He worked alongside other great Rams committed to the betterment of CSU athletics through fundraising and fostering fan and alumni enthusiasm. He also founded and has managed the CSU fan web community RamNation.com for the past 20-plus years, providing coverage and content on CSU athletics, producing a popular podcast with interviews of Ram greats, and giving fellow fans a place to gather and talk on their bustling message boards. Over the past two decades, the website also has been a valuable fundraising tool for the Ram Club and various special causes.
His love of and support for CSU sports has brought Joel lifelong friends, from weekly tailgate pals, to his former residence hall RA and current Alumni Association Executive Director Kristi Bohlender, to legendary football coach Sonny Lubick—who Joel says are all “the nicest, best people you’ll ever meet.”
When informed that he would receive the 2021 LaSasso Spirit Award, Joel said: “My jaw hit the floor. I mean, Fum McGraw has won this award. I know many of the people who have previously received this honor, people I truly admire and some of which I’ve served with in CSU roles. I’m humbled to be mentioned alongside them.”
As Joel recounts what this award means to him, his Ram pride shines bright:
CSU has been a big part of my life since I was a student. When Sonny came, he gave us some amazing seasons and instilled a great sense of pride in all of us. Not every year goes how we want it to go, and it’s not always easy to be a champion of CSU athletics. But being a “stalwart Ram” means being constant, through both the successful and the difficult seasons. I care about CSU and the people here, and I’m a diehard for life.”
Joel Cantalamessa is the quintessential stalwart Ram.