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Strong and vibrant history of athletics and recreation at UTSC

 

by Eleni Kanavas and Mary Ann Gratton

Athletics has long been a cornerstone of student life at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and played a key role in developing young leaders, according to students, staff and alumni. Speaking with fondness about the role of sports and recreation in building leaders and connections over the years, members of the campus community spoke about UTSC’s collaborative and innovative approach to sports and recreation.

“Athletics and recreation add so much value to the whole student life experience,” says Randy Thomas, co-director of athletics and recreation at UTSC, who has worked at UTSC for 30 years. “Our campus has always been very-forward thinking and ahead of the curve.” A strong spirit of cooperation exists and flourishes between the Scarborough College Athletics Association (SCAA) and the athletics department, Thomas says.

Sports and athletics, especially soccer, were highlights of university life for UTSC alumnus and former SCAA president Mohsin Bukhari, now a coach and organizer in two soccer leagues as well as an employee in U of T’s department of student life. “I knew almost everyone on many teams at UTSC, and we supported each other and pulled together for the school,” says Bukhari (BA 2000). “Being involved in teams helped me to develop a lot of skills and learn about leadership. Athletics is right up there with academics in terms of importance in a university education.”

The need to expand athletic facilities has long been identified at UTSC, according to Bukhari. Back in the late 1990s when he was a senior student, he toured and researched other university campuses as part of his work on a report and surveyed our students on the need for more facilities, in particular a swimming pool. “Even back then, we realized that what we had was inadequate for the student population,” he says. The growth of UTSC to 10,000 students has made the need for more facilities even more acute, according to Bukhari.

“An extraordinary number of leaders in the community have come from UTSC athletics and the SCAA executive, people who have continued to invest in this campus and the university long after graduation,” says Thomas. “They’ve invested with their dreams, with their money and with their efforts. They’ve come back as coaches in our intramural programs or as coaches, boy scout or girl guide leaders in the community, and they are a strong presence at alumni and cultural events.”

Alumnus Steve Howlett, former president of the SCAA, played varsity football here and was a strong student athlete before he joined the Canadian Football League (CFL) to play for the Ottawa Rough Riders and Edmonton Eskimos, Thomas recalls. Howlett also came back to U of T to coach the Varsity Blues football team for five years.

A disproportionately high number of athletic successes have come from this campus, notes Thomas. “We have consistently garnered one third of the overall intramural championship awards at the University of Toronto, and no other college or faculty at U of T has that kind of recent historical domination. We’ve been the ones to challenge over the years across the spectrum of intramurals.”

Co-educational athletic programs -- enabling men and women to play on the same sports teams – were offered at our campus from the very beginning of the establishment of the athletics department, and "long before" other University of Toronto campuses provided those opportunities, he says.

UTSC has been called the “flagship program for intramurals at the University of Toronto, and we’ve been told we present intramurals better than anyone else,” said Thomas. Hockey, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse have been strong for years, he notes, and so has water polo, despite the absence of a pool at this campus.

Our approach to inter-house programs is unique on this campus and enables students “who don’t necessarily see themselves as athletes” to participate in structured sporting activities and to expose themselves to new and different sports, he says. “Some people want to try soccer one year, ball hockey the next, and flag football after that, and they value the connections they make through the inter-house programs.”

The Scarborough campus has played a leading role in promoting tri-campus play across U of T and in partnering with community colleges to set up extramural tournaments between colleges and universities in sports such as basketball, volleyball, hockey and soccer, he notes.

As the students prepare to vote in a referendum on a student levy to fund the proposed athletics complex, Thomas notes that UTSC students have endorsed levies several times in the past to improve facilities here. The Student Centre, “The Key” cardio and weight room, and a new wooden gym floor were all funded by student levies and contributions. “Our students have a tradition of building for the future and being generous.”

Both Bukhari and Thomas are excited and hopeful that the campus community will be able to celebrate news of a new athletics and recreation centre following the outcome of a student referendum on a levy to fund the centre that takes place March 17 to 19. They are also looking forward to upcoming celebration of student athletes at the SCAA Athletic Banquet on April 3 at the Delta Toronto East. For details, visit www.utsc.utoronto.ca/athletics.




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