“The good old days.”
The phrase evokes the nostalgia of a simpler, happier time. For the students currently at UTM, those moments may just be ahead, but for those who called this campus home before the turn of the millennium, it’s tough to imagine anything better, especially for a sports fan.
The space available on campus today would amaze those who were on campus in 1967, when the college was founded. The physical education department had set up facilities that weren’t anything to brag about, incredibly small and dainty, including a four-car garage refurbished as an exercise room. The programs included the likes of “Slimnastics”, a popular aerobic class. The sports encompassed basketball, volleyball, badminton, recreational cricket, hockey, and even golf, with practice nets set up along the North Field for UTM’s very own driving range. The tennis courts near the North Building also contained an archery range, and sailing and canoeing were offered to students at Orillia’s Bark Lake.
Over the years, sports culture on campus changed. Fast-forward from its founding to the 1990s, when sports participation peaked. A typical student at Erindale College in 1991 wore loose-fitting clothing, was well-groomed, and regularly read the Medium. The printed word was the lifeblood of the school, and students relied on it heavily for their dose of campus news. A major part of what made the Medium so popular was its strong focus on UTM sports. Sports was one of the most popular sections of the publication; students would scan the paper weekly to look for their name or to read a preview of an upcoming match.
Of all the sports offered at UTM, one reached unparalleled heights: ball hockey. The student body seemed to flock to the gym every week to watch their favourite teams face off on the court. The sport became such a beast that the Medium would publish a preview issue before the season, dedicated entirely to ball hockey. Attendance and participation were through the roof and always growing.
Jack Krist, a student in the late ’80s and early ’90s and now the program coordinator at the RAWC, recalls the impact ball hockey had on the sports community at UTM. “It got to a point where there was just so much coverage in the paper that it actually just drove the numbers up for participation since everybody wanted to see their name in the paper,” he says. Krist also recalls a faux Canada-Russia rivalry match played in Gym C: the players for Russia sported Moscow Dynamo gear, while the Canadian team wore vintage 1976 Team Canada jerseys. Like at any international meeting, the captains exchanged tokens before the game. “The guy from Russia gave him a bottle of vodka and the Canadian gave [the Russian] a bottle of maple syrup. And then they played both national anthems. It was pretty intense,” Krist recalls.
Ball hockey became engrained in UTM culture, watching games became tradition, and players attained a degree of fame that was incomparable in the world of UTM sports. A total of 70 men’s and women’s teams were registered at one time, Krist remembers, and the sport took up approximately 24 hours of gym time a week. The gym was set up like an NHL arena with benches where the teams would sit with their backs to the spectators. Reporters would follow specific teams, interviewing players after games, which developed a team’s fanbase. Though the content was highly sensationalized, it garnered an audience for games on campus. Krist hardly suspected the scale of the sport until he attended an athletic conference at Queens, where he was approached by a member of another council who informed him that UTM possessed the largest ball hockey league in North America.
“We said, ‘Really?’ They wanted to know how we got our league to be so big. I said, ‘I think it’s the school newspaper,’ ” Krist recalls.
This was the unquestionable peak of athletic competition at UTM. But although the league gained momentum through the early ’90s, its inevitable downfall came about during a heated scuffle during one game, as Krist remembers it. “It kind of spilled out into the hallway,” says Krist. “Someone got hit with a stick out there that was coming down the stairs, and she wasn’t a student. She went to the principal and the principal decided that after the season ended he was going to shut ball hockey down for the year. It had gotten out control.” After the year off, ball hockey was reintroduced without the same publicity in the Medium. The numbers declined after that year and never reached the heights of the ’90s again. Krist and the athletic committee were in charge of review boards for ball hockey, which developed the code of fair play for the entire intramural program—a code posted all around campus to this day. “The funny thing is that they use our exact fair play code at the St. George campus, almost verbatim,” says Krist.
While he was a student, Krist wrote for the Medium under the moniker “J-Swish”. The sports section assigned specific writers to specific campus sports. Krist’s was basketball, hence “Swish”, while other writers had names like “Charlie Tuna”, reporting on swimming. Besides his sports journalism, Krist was also on the athletic council. The council we know now as UTMAC was then called “ECARA”, the Erindale College Athletic and Recreational Association. ECARA was formed in 1982 to represent students in the athletic domain, later changing its name when the campus did. The Medium found ways to have fun during Krist’s time at the paper, regularly publishing an April Fool’s issue called the Erindale Enquirer featuring fake campus news stories that were as crude and hilarious as anything you’d find on late-night TV nowadays.
The Medium strictly covered UTM sports: although the writers were allowed to lighten it up to make for better reading, they restricted themselves from anything external. “If you look at some of the older papers, I would guarantee you there’s nothing in here unless it’s all UTM stuff,” says Krist. It built support for UTM sports and later provided Krist with a forum for teams to etch their names on the list of champions. “It helped us out because we’re not the best at archiving stuff, so it was so much easier just to look in the paper,” he says. “And so as the athletic department, a lot of times we would publish the results from athletic banquets, all the MVPs and athletes of they year. We’d put it in the paper, because it’s just a way that we can kind of put it in history.” After receiving a trophy donation from a former student, Krist attempted to backdate all the champions from co-ed soccer, relying entirely on old issues of the Medium. “There weren’t computers to save it on, and it was also run by students,” he recalls. The student paper became the running timeline for all major sports events in UTM’s short history.
UTM’s changing culture of sports is evident to Krist. Participation has been steady, but the competition has dropped. Krist attributes this to students being increasingly pressed for time. “When I was a student—and probably anything before the year 2000—the students here had a lot more free time on their hands,” he says. “The tuition fees were not this high. I think with students now, the tuition fees are high, they have to have jobs. You’re not going to come to university and not have a job.”
Krist believes the teams are weaker than they used to be. He recalls the talent on a Division 1 UTM basketball team he played for: “Schools from the States would be calling us. We went down to Mansfield, Pennsylvania and lost to the host team by four points.” The reporters who interviewed UTM’s head coach were shocked at the revelation that the team was intramural level, says Krist, and had only scraped together four practices before playing a college-level opponent. When Krist took on coaching the women’s basketball team, offers to play in the U.S. sprung up again, and the team played at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, the home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Krist and his team played right after the Cavs’ game against Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and lost 57–53. These offers came as early as 1977, when Erindale’s basketball team played against the American Medaille College at the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo just before an NBA game by the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers). Since the late 1990s, UTM hasn’t received any offers to play against American colleges or universities.
UTM’s campus companion up until this year, the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, made their way onto campus in 1996 after reaching a deal with the Department of Athletics. The team took up their practice facility on the South Field by the parking lot. This parking lot was highly underdeveloped before the Argos settled in; it was covered in gravel and space was limited. Behind the parking lot was a baseball diamond, home to co-ed softball leagues. Over the years, as participation in the league began to decline, the diamond was repurposed into what is now parking lot 8, effectively ending co-ed softball and dedicating the nearby field to the CFL football team. Since the increasing enrolment meant less space for sports—all indoor programs were running out of Gym C in the late 1990s and early 2000s—a push was made to expand the facilities. UTMAC and UTM students were the driving force for the expansion, which was underway by 2006 and resulted in the RAWC. The facilities meant new programs and higher participation in programs and leagues.
After that step, UTM sought to change its identity even further by renaming its teams the UTM Eagles. Before that, Erindale College was the Wendigoes. When it was brought up that a wendigo was a demon in Native American legend, a quick change was made at the end of the 1980s, resulting in the Warriors for men’s teams and the Hustlers for women’s teams. “It got kind of weird when the [Hustler] magazine came out,” recalls Krist. “Then they said, ‘Hey, why can’t the women be Warriors too?’ So we were basically the Erindale College Warriors.” Later on, students thought the Warriors logo, which was similar to that of the Chicago Blackhawks, was offensive and pushed to change it. Student Nejatie Bahroz designed the Eagles logo with rings circling it. “They represent a continuum of programs, that we have something from the beginning to the end. From when you start here to when you graduate, there’s always kind of beginner to high-level competition,” says Krist. “We thought it was pretty cool.”
The old Warriors logo that covered the walls of Gym C were covered with padding after the change to the Eagles. Playing basketball in Gym C one day, Krist noticed that certain areas of the gym were padded strangely. He asked the facility manager and was told that behind the gym’s padding remains UTM’s old Warriors logo, still intact after nearly 15 years.
SPORTSWRITING & OUR FUTURE
The sports programs at UTM offered Jack Krist numerous opportunities that paved the way for his career at the RAWC. Of all of them, meeting his wife Melissa was by far the best and most rewarding. Melissa Krist, née Jazbec, won UTM’s athlete of the year award in 1992/93, and like her husband transitioned into a sports career, working in varsity athletics as a manager of intercollegiate sports for all of U of T. The couple met on the basketball court in Gym C. Jack was sitting on the sidelines as scorekeeper while Melissa played her first basketball game for Erindale.
“Our lives have been entwined in athletics ever since,” says Jack, who proposed to Melissa at Erindale College’s athletic banquet while he was president of ECARA. She was a student at UTM from 1989 to 1993 and was actively involved in sports throughout her four years, playing on the women’s ball hockey team and on the co-ed volleyball, basketball and soccer teams. During her final year at Erindale, she served as president of ECARA, too.
“We were busy creating new leagues, recruiting people to play,” she says. “Everything was word-of-mouth. Ball hockey was the most popular sport on campus and there was a huge rise to co-ed sports. Jack created many of the co-ed sport leagues that are still in play today.” Melissa and the council lobbied for renovations to Gym C and campaigned for a referendum to create a new building, but she was unsuccessful. “It took almost a decade after our tenure before the new building was approved. It looks wonderful.”
The relationships formed during her days on the court at UTM have flourished over the years and continue to be a large part of her life. “I still keep in touch with many of the people I played intramurals with. Eight years after graduating, three of them were in my wedding party, and one I married,” she smiles. “The culture was very positive and everyone knew everyone.” Like other students on campus, she got her news from the Medium and says the student-run publication dictated what to pay attention to on campus. Nowadays, Melissa is on the business side of sports, working closely with coaches and intercollegiate staff, managing 43 varsity sports teams, working with league budgets, creating practices and league schedules, and overseeing sports events.
The Krists are not the only ones who found a career after involvement in sports and sports journalism. Isaac Owusu, a former varsity football player and sports editor of the Medium, found his calling in sports journalism after being recruited to write for sports. Beginning in 2007 and continuing through his first two years at UTM, Owusu played on the football team after being enlisted by former coach Steve Howlett. During his final two years at school, the criminology major was encouraged to write for sports by a friend. “I always wanted to stay involved in sports after I stopped playing football, so I figured I’d give writing a shot,” he remembers.
Owusu believed his unique perspective as an athlete would be a fit for sportswriting, and he worked his way up from journalist to editor. After graduating, Owusu decided that this was the career path for him. “I went and did post-grad in sports journalism and I found myself doing internship at TSN for a bit of time following that,” he says. Recently, Owusu worked with CBC Sports during their coverage of the Winter Olympic games in Sochi, managing social media and writing blog posts on the latest Olympic news. He also worked with CBC for the Paralympic games. “It’s been a short time doing this thing as a career and who knows where I’ll finish up,” he reflects. “I will always have the Medium to thank for giving me the first opportunity in this game of journalism. I learned a lot of things through covering the people here and getting to diversify my work.”
Darryl Sequeira was sports editor during another heyday of UTM sports, enrolling here in 1997 and eventually getting a job at the RAWC as a student. He also played on multiple intramural teams and drove teams to games in the RAWC van. It was because of this that the Medium’s editor-in-chief, Tammi Sulliman, decided his network would be good for sports coverage. Indeed, the requests from coaches piled up and were quickly too much to fit in one section. “I ended up being given four-page layouts,” he says. “If I was lucky I would manage to get a fifth.” In recent years, sports has typically gotten two pages.
And his relentless focus on local sports made it a popular section. “On Mondays students would sometimes skip right to the sports section at the back of the paper,” he recalls. “It made the hard work over the weekend worthwhile.” The year after he left, the editor happened to turn its focus to pro leagues and opinions on pro athletes, which he felt left very little to the section. That same issue has recurred time and again over the years: the temptation to write about the wider world rather than to stick to our home turf and do it well. Time has taught that Sequeira’s view is the better-read one.
The ever-changing sports culture at UTM reflects the times. But despite changes to the infrastructure, the name of the campus, and, of course, the student body, our athletics always found a means to survive. Regardless of individual high points in its history, UTM’s sports program might in fact be thriving more now than ever. “The biggest change has been the level of participation by the broad spectrum of students on campus,” says Ken Duncliffe, the current director of the department. “Today, we have a very diverse student population making use of the facilities and programs being offered. The breadth of our sport offerings has been driven by student demand, reflecting the culture diversity of the student body.”
What matters most is that we remain in tune with our sports scene, making it a focus of campus life, giving athletes a place to play and compete and students something to cheer for.