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About the Author

Joe Chrvala

Books by this Author
- Huskies, In Pursuit of Excellence

- Huskies, In Pursuit of Excellence

A Celebration of Saint Mary's University Varsity Athletic programs: 1951-2012
photographs by francis Mitchell; Joe Chrvala & Mona Ghiz
from an idea by Paul Puma
cover design or artwork by Virginia Houston
drawings by Barbara Dorey
assisted by Walt Tanner
by Frank Mitchell, General Editor
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THE STUDENT_ATHLETE Moulding the Student-Athlete: A Personal Memoir of Four Decades at Saint Mary’s by Colin Howell

Forty years ago, in the fall of 1970, I arrived at Saint Mary’s to take up a teaching position in the Department of History. Just twenty-six years old, still wet-behind-the-years and thinking I knew far more than I did, I shared the optimism of those children of the sixties who trusted no-one over thirty and were determined to remake the world. A graduate of Dalhousie, where I had once captained what Bob Hayes enjoyed calling the “soot and yellow” rugby team, I left Halifax in 1967 to do doctoral work at the University of Cincinnati. To say that this was a tumultuous time in the United States would be an understatement. Campuses resonated with the language of civil rights, protests against the war in Vietnam, the tragic assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the shooting of students at Kent State. In this environment, the place of sport on campus was controversial. Wasn’t sport with its emphasis on competition rather than cooperation simply a tool of the establishment? Wasn’t too much money spent on sport rather than on the university’s educational priorities? Wasn’t frisbee in the park more democratic, participatory and healthy than having a handful of football players perform for 30,000 passive spectators? And wasn’t it true, as feminists suggested, that sport was a male-dominated activity which reinforced masculine power in the society at large? If universities were to fulfill a socially transformative mission, some asked, didn’t sport just get in the way?

In those days prospects for change seemed to be everywhere: Dylan crooned that the answers to many of these questions were simply “blowing in the wind”. In 1970 the winds of change also blew briskly down Robie Street. Three years earlier when I left for the States, Saint Mary’s was an all-male university, still controlled by the Jesuits, with a little more than 600 students. When I returned to teach there it was operating under a new University Act, becoming increasingly co-educational, and enrollment had grown to over 2,000 students. At the same time the University began out of necessity to increase its faculty complement. Given that tenure-track academic jobs were in short supply across the continent, Saint Mary’s was able to recruit an especially talented group of young academics who brought with them a vision of a university that would compete nationally for research dollars and scholarly recognition. In working toward that end, however, conflicts over funding were inevitable. It is hardly surprising that the faculty was one of the first in Canada to unionize. Nor is it surprising that in the struggle for scarce resources many of the same questions being raised in the United States about the place of sport in the university would also emerge here. I remember at the time not always being sure where I stood on the issue. I had grown up in a family that loved sport, spent my summers as a teenager playing baseball in Kentville from sunup till sundown, attended every game the Halifax Junior Canadians played at the old Forum, played rugby for the Halifax Rugby Club and Dalhousie and, as my daughter grew up, coached her soccer club for a dozen years. I loved watching the Huskies whether on the football field, the basketball court or at the drafty old rink and undersized ice surface that even then needed to be replaced. Yet I could appreciate the arguments of those who worried about the negative effects that sport could exert in a university setting, and heard the arguments from aggrieved students that athletes had a kind of “special status” on campus. Whether these concerns were legitimate or exaggerated, one image remains in my mind to this day. I used to teach American history to a class of over 100 students in old Theatre B in the Burke Building. One day as I looked up through the elevated rows of seats, a football player named Mike Riley (who later went on to play for a few years in the CFL) was occupying the entire center section of the theatre, legs over the seats in front of him and arms spread across the adjacent ones. No one else was within fifteen feet of him as he spread himself over about eight seats at once. Since then social theorists have often written about the male sense of entitlement to space and the way in which women occupy as little space as they can, knees demurely locked together and giving appropriate attention to good posture. Given that women’s athletics at Saint Mary’s had yet to develop its own space - as was true everywhere before Title IX in the United States altered the university sporting landscape - and given that debates continued about how resources should be distributed in the university as a whole, young Riley had made the point with dramatic effect. I don’t think I ever mentioned it to him, but wish I had been able to take a picture of him that day.

Teaching both American and Canadian history at a time when a course in history was required for graduation, my classes were filled with athletes. I enjoyed the feelings of camaraderie with football recruits from Bishop Kendrick High School in Philadelphia like Ralph Panzullo, with high-profile athletes like Mickey Fox, Bob Warner, Lee Thomas, Kenny Clark, Angelo Santucci, Mike Curry, Chuck LeCain, Keith Hotchkiss, Brian O’Byrne, Dennis Reardon, Rick Plato and Hec Pothier. When they went on to win national championships, signed on to play at the professional level, or eventually fashioned successful careers in the community, I was gratified by their success and proud to have helped contribute to their education. Some of them such as Rick Plato, who went on to a successful career as a teacher and basketball coach, epitomized the ideal of the “scholar athlete”, and clearly demonstrated that the divide between sport and academic excellence was far from unbridgeable. So too with Chuck LeCain, Dennis Reardon, Bryan O’Byrne, Hec Pothier, Syd Moore and a number of other student-athletes such as Academic All-Canadian volleyball player Christena MacRae, whom I have come into contact with over the years. At the 2009 Saint Mary’s Sports Hall of Fame induction of the 1978-9 men’s basketball team, I had a chance to talk to Donald “Taps” Gallagher who came here from south of the border to play varsity basketball. After a year playing with the Huskies, the CIAU placed a limit of three Americans on university rosters, “Taps” found himself relegated to spectator status. Rather than challenging the ruling, or leaving the University, he dedicated himself to making the best of his degree. He worked on his courses with the same discipline that he had taken to the basketball court, never missed a class, and went on to a successful career as a lawyer in Chicago. By that time the University had gone through a period of maturation and it had become clear to me that the athletic and academic missions of the school were more complementary than divisive. Building on the vision of the legendary Bob Hayes, and the coaching excellence of Al Keith, Brian Heaney, Larry Uteck and Bob Boucher, as well as the leadership of Kathy Mullane in women’s athletics, Saint Mary’s built a tradition of sporting excellence uncommon in a school that had no supporting kinesiology or physical education department. Elizabeth Chard, who chaired the History Department when I first came to Saint Mary’s and later took over as Registrar, was a powerful voice for the importance of both the academic and athletic enterprise, and another influential figure in the development of the University as an institution of national prominence. Elizabeth was a tour de force, flinty, tough and dedicated to the University, and in becoming the first female president of the CIAU, demonstrated a willingness to take on the male-dominated bureaucracy of university sport. What all those coaches and builders shared - as did the father figure of Saint Mary’s sport, Father John J. Hennessey - was a passion for the University. This enthusiasm carried over to the student-athletes. I still recall the day when a young soccer player, Rocco Cianfaglione, stood up in a crowded Theatre B to lecture Premier Gerald Regan on the necessity for more funding for its academic programs so that the University could realize its goals of both athletic and academic excellence. Later I was invited to Rocco’s wedding, a gala event notable for its celebration of both his own family and the family of Santamarians that were there as well. Rather than focusing on the old mind/body divide – the idea that because sports were of the body and academics of the mind that somehow they were in conflict -- I came to think of them more holistically. As our world changes through the development of modern industrial, scientific and medical technologies, personal computers, and the internet, sport remains a profound social technology, an implement for social change and improvement. Saint Mary’s in fact exemplifies the blending of three grand social technologies, (sport, education and religion), that are dedicated to improving lives and building stronger communities. None of these operate without imperfections, but in touching the lives of so many students, alumni, faculty, administrators and others at the university, they have given Saint Mary’s its unique character. For me personally, a love of education, of history and of sport and a realization of how they contribute to social responsibility, has shaped my academic career and brought me deep personal satisfaction and affection for the University. I hear this from others all the time, often from student-athletes who came to Saint Mary’s through athletics and got an education that allowed them to live successful lives and contribute to the community at large. It is a story often told at the induction ceremonies by our best athletes, our Paul Pumas, Chuck Goddards, Bob Ruotolos and countless others.

The more I thought of sport as a technology, the more I wanted to bring this into my own teaching and writing about Canadian history. For many years the traditional narrative of Canada was written into often dry textbooks that told the story of politics, war, and diplomacy, and focused on the accomplishments of great men. While this was an important story to tell, it left so much out, silencing the voices of women, saying little about the history of the Maritimes, and rendering sport to the realm of the merely frivolous. Through the 1970s and into the 80s I had concentrated on writing the neglected history of Atlantic Canada into the national narrative, and just as the energy and camaraderie generated by Huskie teams, there was a great team of scholars throughout the region that took this on as their mission. At Saint Mary’s a group of faculty members that included Ken MacKinnon, Cyril Byrne, Don Higgins, John Reid, Gene Barrett, Martha Macdonald, Anders Sandberg, Madine VanderPlaat and others were part of a team that helped develop the Atlantic Canada Studies program and the Gorsebrook Research Institute. Just like national champions in sport, this team fought for the region and a recognition of its importance to the nation. By the mid-80s, moreover, the turning away from the exclusive preoccupation with past politics and military history, and the new emphasis on social history, provided me with the opportunity to remake myself as a sport historian.

As I focused my research increasingly on sport, began attending conferences on sport studies and wrote books and articles on the subject, I was able to develop courses in sport history and supervise graduate students who were excited to write about sport. I point this out because while when we think of sport at Saint Mary’s we often only focus on formal sport activity, and remain largely unaware that there is an academic tradition of research and writing about sport that is being built here as well. This extends beyond the research being done by the Saint Mary’s Sport Hall of Fame and heritage center, by people such as Heather Harris, who along with Brian O’Byrne and Dennis Reardon were graduate students in history during my first year of teaching at Saint Mary’s. Other grad students, including Jim Myers, Mac Ross, Daryl Leeworthy, Dan Macdonald, Beverly Williams, Michael Smith, and Cindy Kiley, have written wonderful theses on baseball and rugby in Cape Breton, sport in industrial communities and in rural areas, boxing in the Maritimes, women’s sport, and leisure time in Halifax. Then there are the graduates of Saint Mary’s who took their interest in sport (whether it be athletic or academic) to other universities. In addition to Rhodes Scholars such as former Huskie quarterback David Sykes, other Saint Mary’s grads are continuing their studies elsewhere. Erik Lyman, who played on the national champion football Huskies, is presently completing a doctoral program at the University of Edinburgh working on sport in the Scottish military; former history honours student Leah Grandy has recently completed a doctorate at the University of New Brunswick with a study of harness racing in the Maritimes and New England; Daryl Leeworthy is working on sporting space in working class districts of Wales at the University of Swansea; and Mac Ross is doing a doctorate at the University of Western Ontario looking at the history of hockey in Nova Scotia.

Given the absence of a kinesiology or physical education program which would provide a formal linkage between the athletic and academic programs at Saint Mary’s, I took the initiative a few years ago to establish the Center for the Study of Sport and Health (CSSH) which has now moved into the new Homburg Center for Health and Wellness, which was opened in April, 2012. The Center is committed to bringing world class researchers in sports studies to the campus, developing curriculum in the area of sports studies, and establishing a solid academic counterpart to Saint Mary’s tradition of sporting excellence. It also will build upon its experience in hosting important sporting conferences. As part of the run up to the 2001 World Junior Hockey Championships and 2004 Women’s Worlds in Halifax, for example, we hosted two major international Putting it on Ice conferences that are generally acknowledged to have begun a renaissance of hockey scholarship in Canada. Putting it on Ice III took place in July, 2012, just prior to the publication of this book. In the first two conferences our organizing committees included Elizabeth Chard, Nick Murray, Bobby Warner, Bob Boucher, Trevor Stienberg, Paul Boutilier and Bryan O”Byrne and were supported by the staff at the Gorsebrook Research Institute. Here was a textbook example of the academic and athletic side of the University working closely together. Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden, Danielle Sauvigeau, John Paris Jr., Stacey Wilson served as conference co-captains. At a special convocation which bestowed an honorary degree upon him, Dr. Dryden emphasized how sport and university learning worked together to provide a culture of civility and responsibility. “There is an important connection between sports and learning and educational institutions,” he emphasized, “one increasingly forgotten, one that needs to be reinforced.”

Over the years the University has taken great pride in preparing its students for the challenges of the future. Sport, religion and education have been at the heart of that mission, providing Saint Mary’s students with a well-rounded preparation for living lives of purpose and social responsibility. Sport and education at Saint Mary’s work hand in hand. As we celebrate the accomplishments of Saint Mary’s athletics in this volume, therefore, we should not forget the tradition of academic excellence that we struggle to build. Nor should academics in their pursuit of that end dismiss the important role that sport, both at the varsity and the intra-mural level, has played in the educational process. Often the priorities of the university are evident in the buildings we construct to house them. Around us the new Atrium facility and improvements to the McNally building are a testament to the academic environment we offer our students, and the new Homburg Center for Health and Wellness recognizes the connections between individual and social health and well-being.

Now if only we had that new rink!

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