Justin Cato says the job of director of campus recreation and wellness at WKU “fulfilled all the criteria.”
Cato spent the last four years as senior associate director for campus recreation at Texas A&M University-Commerce.
“The location was a big draw,” he said, noting that Bowling Green is several hours closer to the family in Florida. “The campus is beautiful. It’s a great opportunity that gave me the chance to achieve a goal I set for myself at the beginning of my career.”
Raised in Keystone Heights, Florida, Cato graduated from the University of North Florida in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in sports leadership and graduated from the University of Arkansas with a master’s degree in recreation with a concentration in sports management starting in 2007. His professional career began at the age of 10 at the University of North Florida, where he served as an intramural coordinator, assistant director, and associate director for campus recreation.
“A dream of mine when I came into college free time was to someday be a principal,” he said.
As director, Cato is responsible for recreation and wellness programs including the Raymond B. Preston Health and Activities Center, Hattie L. Preston Intramural Sports Complex, WKU Challenge Course, Outdoor Recreation Adventure Center, Health Education and Promotion, Health and Fitness Laboratory, intramural and club sports and more.
Cato, who arrived at WKU in September, said the transition has been smooth and he is feeling more comfortable. “The staff is great. They really helped bring me,” he said. “It doesn’t feel as surreal as it did at first. It’s starting to feel normal.”
Getting back to normal was one of Cato’s goals for Campus Recreation and Wellness. “COVID has hit us hard, so we’re still trying to recover and go back to where things were before COVID,” he said. “We’re getting there. I think we’re closer, but we’re still trying to get fully staffed with students.”
In addition to providing recreation and fitness programs for the campus community, Campus Recreation and Wellness prepares its student staff for their professional careers. “We want to give students that experience back and help them prepare for their first job out of college,” Cato said. “That’s why we do what we do to be able to support our students professionally.”
Student participation in colleges, athletic clubs, outdoor programs, recreational activities, and fitness programs also improves. “We’re seeing a lot more students at the Preston Center,” he said. “It’s nice that we’re at a point where our attendance numbers are pretty close to where they were before COVID.”
When not working, Cato enjoys spending time with his family – wife Julie; sons, Logan and Nathan; and four cocker spaniels. “We definitely fell in love with the area and really like this part of the country,” Cato said.
The family has owned a trailer for about five years and have already planned several trips.
“We love being outside, camping, exploring and enjoying this beautiful country,” he said. “It’s great family time. We love being able to see different parts of the United States. Switching off and being out in nature for a few days is really nice.”
For more information on on-campus recreational and wellness programs, visit https://www.wku.edu/crw/
- Save the date: The 64th Annual WKU Faculty & Staff Golf Tournament is scheduled for July 15 at the Cross Winds Golf Course in Bowling Green.