December 17, 2017

Niel DeVasto: Grandfather of the Gorloks

Sports information director (SID) Niel DeVasto’s roots at Webster University date back to when he was a junior transfer student in 1977. Along the way, he has helped build an athletic program that did not exist when he was a student.

After a 40-year history with Webster, DeVasto will be retiring as SID at the end of the year.

DeVasto left such an impact at Webster that the origin of the Gorlok mascot personally involves him. He said former student Larry Underwood drew up the winning model of the mascot as a joke on DeVasto.

“I always kept a mustache at the time, had glasses and I smoked cigars in my office,” DeVasto said. “I was on the dumpy side, and that was my connection to the Gorlok is that guy was kind of goofing on me.”

Director of video content Austin Ratanasitee said he heard the story of the Gorlok mascot being modeled after DeVasto.

“When I was told that, my mind was blown,” Ratanasitee said. “If you look at old pictures of Niel with his beard, the resemblance is uncanny. For that reason, when I see those plush Gorloks admissions gives to new students, I tend to think of Niel.”

The original Gorlok design featured a furry creature with horns, a mustache and glasses running with a pump sprayer. In 1988, it lost the glasses and mustache but gained a sweater. A more athletic Gorlok was introduced in 2006.

DeVasto said Underwood did not claim his prize because he did not want to embarrass him. DeVasto also said he thought it was funny, but he had his doubts when he first saw the winning design.

“I’m talking to a guy who is in our development, and said ‘you have got to be kidding me’,” DeVasto said. “‘Look, we are already kind of a joke, and we are a small school starting with a funny name’. He said, ‘no, let’s turn this over to a graphic artist and they can come up with something’.”

The Original Gorlok

The Original Gorlok

Since then, the Gorlok mascot was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top ten most unusual mascots.

When DeVasto started working for Webster in admissions in 1980, he discovered many prospective students would go to other schools because Webster lacked an athletic program.

DeVasto said he approached school administration in early 1984 about starting an athletics program at Webster. After he put in a proposal, Webster agreed to budget money to start athletics the next school year.

“It’s February of 1984 and you want to start up the next year, it doesn’t give you a lot of time, but we did it,” DeVasto said. “We basically started tennis for men and women, volleyball for women, basketball for men and women and soccer for men. Those were going to be the start up sports.”

DeVasto became the first athletic director in school history in 1984, and served until 1988. Soon after, the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was formed in 1989.

DeVasto said he was involved in creating the idea of having St. Louis area Division III schools start their own conference.

“Not that we thought we were much better than these schools, but to fill our schedules we were playing Sanford Brown and Logan College,” DeVasto said. “Non-four year degree seeking schools in addition to playing Greenville, Fontbonne and Maryville … There was eight of us, since we were in proximity of each other and we were not in any particular league, [we thought] it could form a nice little Division III conference.”

Current athletic director Scott Kilgallon said DeVasto put his heart and soul into the school.

“We are losing a good man and he has left his legacy here,” Kilgallon said. “It’s common when people say they bleed school colors, but he bleeds the school colors. That’s not an easy decision and he should be proud on how he has helped the athletics program into what we enjoy today.”

Photo Credit: Niel DeVasto

Photo Credit: Niel DeVasto

Before taking on the newly created sports information director position in 2009, DeVasto served as director of admissions for 13 years.

Webster hired a new president, provost and Dean of Enrollment in 2009. The new administration then proposed making DeVasto the inaugural SID.

“First of all, I love the program,” DeVasto said. “I think of myself as the one who started it, so I said sure. I certainly knew the sports vernacular and have been writing for years, so that part didn’t worry me. I didn’t know anything about the software that kept stats for the game, so I had to learn about that.”

During the fall and spring months, DeVasto is often keeping track of five athletic events on Saturdays. As SID, he is in charge of maintaining the athletics website, live feeds, writing articles, social media and sending statistics into the NCAA.

Webster now has 16 different athletic teams for men and women, along with a cheerleading squad. Kilgallon said the SID position is a tough job that involves a lot of multitasking and deadlines.

“It’s a professional job that is compounded by the fact of our spreaded facilities, because he has got to be at every event he can be, humanly possible,” Kilgallon said. “On top of that, the NCAA has gotten way more sophisticated requiring very stringent statistical reporting deadlines. Definitely not a nine to five, 40 hour a week job.”

Ratanasitee handles the videography and photography for all home games. He said DeVasto has a great memory about the program and depends on him for his extensive knowledge.

“His job really allows for the student athletes’ friends and family to stay engaged,” Ratanasitee said. “Especially for families that don’t live in St. Louis, his stories allow for them to know how their child did in the game. Niel also has the knack for pushing stories out within minutes after the game is over.”

DeVasto said he will still attend games after his retirement and be available to help his replacement as SID.

“It’s really highly mixed emotions for me,” DeVasto said. “I like the job, but physically I’m not as capable as I once was. My problem with my back is not getting better, it’s getting worse … so, that’s why I am doing the retirement thing.”

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