Former WKU student-athlete makes $1 million donation to WKU athletic department

Western Kentucky University has received the largest outright gift from a former student-athlete with a gift of $1 million from Joe and Sunshine Micatrotto of Las Vegas, Nev. The Micatrotto gift includes support for capital projects, the WKU Football and Volleyball programs and the WKU Opportunity Fund.

Joe Micatrotto originally started his college career at Kent State University on a football scholarship, but something about WKU always stood out to him. He transferred to WKU after his freshman year and played football at WKU from 1993 to 1997.

“I didn’t take an official visit to WKU, but my family and I were able to spend some quality time with Coach Jack Harbaugh and Coach Doug Mallory,” said Joe Micatrotto. “When I decided to transfer, it was an easy choice. I would be able to immediately play for high-quality coaches and men.”

Joe Micatrotto, who has a Bachelor of Science in Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism from WKU, credits both his academic department and WKU Football for helping him successfully enter the workforce.

“I’m one of the few people I know who does professionally what I studied in college,” shared Joe Micatrotto. “The combination of the lessons I learned on the field with the lessons I learned in the classroom really prepared me for my career. From a work ethic and education standpoint, WKU really set me up for the hospitality field.”

Joe Micatrotto, who is President and CEO of MRG Marketing & Management, Inc., said the idea of making a significant gift to the University had always been a dream for him and his wife, Sunshine.

“Joe and Sunny Micatrotto are impacting WKU Athletics in a multitude of ways,” shared Todd Stewart, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. “This remarkable commitment, the largest from a former student-athlete in our history, will help to usher in a new era of philanthropy and support. Joe has been a mainstay around our program in a variety of ways, contributing his time and talents. This gift and their commitment, not just to our 16 teams and nearly 350 student-athletes but to our entire campus and community, is truly appreciated.”

“We are extremely thankful to the Micatrottos for this substantial gift that will affect so many of our student-athletes,” said WKU President Timothy C. Caboni. “Private support is critical to ensuring we can provide our students with the best educational opportunities available.”

“The state is cutting support, and we saw it as a great time to be able to touch academics and sports,” said Joe Micatrotto.

“Our attraction to Football and Volleyball is simple: Mike (Sanford) and Travis (Hudson),” he continued. “Supporting the football program is easy because it is so close to my heart. My family has had a relationship with the Sanford family dating back to 2005 when Mike Sr. was coaching in my current home city of Las Vegas. Sunshine and I have become very close with Mike, Anne Marie and the entire family. I support Coach and I believe in his leadership and where he will have this program over the years to come.”

Of the three areas outlined in the gift, one is capital support for scoreboard and technology enhancements for E.A. Diddle Arena, Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium and the WKU Softball and Soccer complexes. Ultimately, the facilities for six athletic teams will see improvements, and student-athlete and fan experiences will be dramatically elevated.

“We are so thankful as a football family for the contributions of Joe and Sunny Micatrotto,” said Mike Sanford, WKU Head Football Coach. “My relationship with Joe goes back over a decade, both at WKU and other institutions, and it has been fantastic to see our relationship grow even stronger over these past 18 months. As a former WKU player, Joe’s willingness to give back to our program is a powerful testament to what our student-athletes can accomplish with an incredible work ethic and a degree from this great institution.”

Both the WKU Football and Volleyball programs will also receive support through their respective team Excellence Funds, which provide unrestricted funding for each team and program.

“Travis and Cindy Hudson are plain and simple what WKU is all about,” said Joe Micatrotto. “What Travis and his girls have done over the past 20-plus years is nothing short of bronze-statue-worthy. My wife was born and raised in Hawaii where volleyball is right behind surfing in the passion department. She recently got to spend time with Travis and the team, and the passion for WKU Volleyball hit her head on.”

Travis Hudson, the Head Coach for Women’s Volleyball, says the Micatrotto gift is a game changer for the program.

“We feel like we’ve completed every facet of what it takes to be a high-level volleyball program in terms of success, NCAA volleyball tournaments and graduation rates, but the one piece to this puzzle is making sure we have the same facilities and resources used by bigger schools,” said Hudson. “This gets us back in the game in regard to those elements.”

Hudson said they are planning some facility enhancements for the spaces the players utilize daily, which will be impactful not just for the players in the program now, but also for future student-athletes.

“I don’t think the Micatrotto family can fully understand the lift that it gives to our team when someone shows them love and support,” said Hudson. “Our kids and our staff have worked really hard for many years to make WKU Volleyball a nationally competitive program. To see someone notice and give back to us raises morale throughout the program from one end to the other. Although Joe has gone on to do many great things, he’s never forgotten that he’s a Hilltopper, and I think this is a great testament to that.”

Through this gift, the couple has also established the Micatrotto Family Opportunity Fund for Athletics, part of the WKU Opportunity Fund campaign to raise $50 million to benefit WKU students. The Micatrotto Family Opportunity Fund for Athletics will benefit student-athletes, with first preference given to WKU Football student-athletes, and provide access to applied experiences and other relevant financial needs related to their educational pursuits. This gift marks the first gift to the WKU Opportunity Fund to support WKU Athletics.

When asked what inspired them to make a gift to support the WKU Opportunity Fund, Sunshine Micatrotto says that being able to provide students with a “yes” is very important to her.

“I’m a first-generation college graduate, and without support from people around me, that wouldn’t have happened,” said Sunshine Micatrotto. “Not everyone has parents who can afford to send them to college. When we heard about the WKU Opportunity Fund, we wanted to help give kids a ‘yes.’”

“We’ve come to know the Cabonis over the past year, and we love their passion and want to support what Kacy and President Caboni are creating for WKU students,” added Joe Micatrotto. “Our kids are 12 and 10 years old, and they have probably never heard ‘no’ except when they do something wrong. A lot of kids never hear a ‘yes,’ and this Fund is a way to say ‘yes’ a lot more often.”

“Money for books or a little tuition help is a big deal for a lot of students,” continued Sunshine Micatrotto. “Things like this can be taken for granted, but these little things add up to the larger picture.”

Joe Micatrotto, who attended WKU on a full football scholarship, says he always felt like WKU paid it forward to him and that this was an opportunity to help pay it forward to other WKU students.

“Supporting my alma mater makes me proud and excited, but more than anything it has allowed me to help something I’m so passionate about,” said Joe Micatrotto. “We are blessed to be able to do something like this. Being a part of the WKU family is a real thing to our family.”

“I stepped foot in Bowling Green for the first time 13 years ago, and it felt like home,” added Sunshine Micatrotto. “I’m really excited to be more engaged in the community.”

Joe and Sunshine Micatrotto are Lifetime Members of the WKU Alumni Association, and he currently serves on the WKU Alumni Association National Board of Directors.