Red Fox Spotlight: Michael Rolek ’08
October 30, 2020—As an undergraduate, Michael Rolek ’08 explored various interests. He was a record-setting runner on the cross country and track teams, called the men’s and women’s basketball games on the College radio station, and excelled in the classroom, ultimately finding his calling as a lawyer.
Currently, a commercial litigator with the New Jersey-based law firm, Connell Foley LLP, Rolek was recently selected for inclusion in the 2021 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America “Ones to Watch,” one of the oldest and most respected peer-review publications in the legal profession.
Rolek has used his experience as an attorney to create change and increase diversity and engagement in the sport he loves – track and field. In summer 2019, Rolek submitted ten proposed amendments to the USA Track and Field (USATF) Bylaws and Operating Regulations, collectively referred to as the Diversity Bill. Thereafter, Rolek was appointed to USATF Association’s Task Force on Engagement and Inclusion, aimed at increasing diversity and engagement within the sport and USATF’s local governing bodies.
A native of Maplewood, New Jersey, Rolek currently lives in Jersey City with his wife, Nicole, and two-year-old daughter, Ryleigh.
From Sports Broadcaster to Teacher to Lawyer
Arriving at Marist, Rolek dreamed of being a sports broadcaster. Throughout his four years on campus, the communications major with a concentration in journalism, hosted a sports radio show and did play-by-play and color commentating for the women’s and men’s basketball games on WMAR, the College radio station. After a few internships in broadcasting and some timely pre-law classes, however, Rolek decided to pivot his career path. For Rolek, the change in direction during his undergraduate years from journalism to the law was all positive—and a key part of his journey. “At Marist, we were always encouraged to do internships,” he explained. “I’m so glad I had those experiences. I found that although I really enjoyed calling games on the College radio station, the day-to-day world of broadcast journalism was not for me.”
The law classes he took during his junior year ignited a spark and he quickly found himself preparing for the law school entrance exam, the LSAT. During his senior year, while applying to law schools, another opportunity came his way: Teach for America.
“Every senior captain received an email from Teach for America, encouraging us to apply to the non-profit program. I never heard of it,” Rolek stated. “After some research, I learned that Teach for America was a non-profit organization that placed recent college graduates in low-income areas to teach for at least two years with the goal of eradicating the educational gap in the United States. I loved the mission and applied.”
After being accepted into Teach for America, Rolek deferred his admittance to Seton Hall University School of Law to fulfill his teaching commitment.
“I was fortunate to get placed teaching elementary education at a charter school in Newark called North Star Academy managed by Uncommon Schools, a nationally-recognized non-profit that operates urban public schools. When I started teaching, North Star elementary was in its second year and the school was in the basement of a public school,” explained Rolek. “Today, North Star consists of 14 schools in Newark and is the highest performing charter school in New Jersey. Through the efforts of the students, parents and teachers, North Star provided a learning environment that cultivated growth and encouraged excellence. It was truly an inspiring place to be each day.”
While at Marist, Rolek was also an accomplished athlete as a member of the track and field and cross country teams. He was named Third Team ESPN Magazine Academic All-American and was the Marist College 2008 Male Sportsperson of the Year. He was also named All-MAAC in cross country and broke the school record in the 10,000 meters. Rolek also became the first student-athlete in school history to earn an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. After college, Rolek continued to run competitively, running 2:23 in the marathon and 1:06 in the half-marathon.
Still an avid runner, in November Rolek is running the perimeter of Manhattan to raise money for The Scholarship Fund for Inner-City Children, a non-profit organization based out of Newark.
Rolek talks fondly of his time running track and cross country and of his relationship with his teammates and longtime coach Pete Colaizzo. The admiration is mutual.
“Mike embodied the ideals of our track/cross country program, that of being a true student-athlete, with emphasis on the student part first,” said Colaizzo. “He was a super high achiever in both areas. That level of achievement was the product of hard work—in the classroom and the library, and in the endless miles of training in our beautiful mid-Hudson Valley. He was a record-setting runner and a leader for our program, paving the way for future generations of running Red Foxes. More importantly, he proved the true value of Marist's liberal arts education, using that as a foundation for the many awesome paths his career has taken.”
Making a Difference, Creating Change
After his teaching days were over, and injuries derailed his competitive running career, Rolek began in earnest his legal career.
For Rolek, pursuing law very much fit in with his desire to create positive change in his community. A litigator, Rolek generally represents a wide array of clients in state court, federal court and arbitrations across the country in matters involving business torts, such as unfair competition and fraud, breaches of contract and fiduciary duty, and catastrophic injury defense.
His firm, Connell Foley, encourages attorneys to explore different passion projects. Rolek used this opportunity to get back to his roots as a runner.
In Summer 2019, Rolek, with his pro bono client the Garden State Track Club, submitted the Diversity Bill to USATF’s Bylaws and Operating Regulations, aimed at increasing diversity, engagement and accessibility to USATF Associations across the county. “The idea being that if more USATF members with diverse backgrounds became involved with the sport at a local level, the USATF and its Associations will become stronger, new ideas will germinate, and the sport will grow,” Rolek explained.
Rolek’s Diversity Bill received support from Olympians, coaches, and chairs of various track and field committees and associations across the country. In December 2019, Rolek traveled to Reno, Nevada, to present and defend the proposed amendments to the USATF Law and Legislation Committee. Understanding the importance of the issues discussed and the impact it will have on the USATF and its local governing bodies, the Law and Legislation Committee elected to table a vote until the 2020 USATF Annual Meeting. In doing so, the USATF Association’s Task Force on Engagement and Inclusion was formed to further investigate diversity/engagement issues within the USATF and develop the language in the proposed amendments. Rolek is a member of the Task Force and fully expects the proposed amendments to pass at the 2020 Annual Meeting.
“Diversity is one of the stated purposes of USATF, but there was nothing in place to actually hold local organizations accountable to promote diversity,” he explained. “The proposed amendments make local groups accountable and also make USATF more accessible to dues-paying members. This is a true passion project for me. I’m grateful to have my firm’s support to pursue this important work.”
Long-term, the goal is to have the Diversity Bill become a model for other Olympic sports organizations. “It’s just part of my personality,” Rolek said of this latest endeavor. “Life is short. No point in sitting on the sidelines.”
Rolek emphasized how his time at Marist set the tone for his life and future career. “At Marist, I received a diverse liberal arts education, fulfilled my athletic ambitions, and forged life-long friendships,” stated Rolek. “Marist and the mid-Hudson Valley will always feel like home.”