You might not see them playing, but every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, ball hockey players face off against each other in campus rec intramural action in Gym C. The sport is offered in the fall and winter semesters.
Ball hockey rose to monumental heights at UTM in the 1990s, according to community members present at the time. Gym C would fill to capacity with spectators and players every Friday night for weekly ball hockey games. The pre-game festivities were as formal as those of an NHL game, with the national anthem played and players sitting on benches before the game.
At one point, UTM reportedly boasted the largest ball hockey league in North America, with over 70 men’s and women’s teams. With the inherent physicality of the sport comes a greater chance of fisticuffs. Incidents involving violence and, according to some, racism, led to the league being shut down, and the sport never regained its place in UTM’s sports scene. With the creation of the RAWC and the two main gyms, Gym C remains hidden in the dark basement hallways of Davis. The league manages to boast steady participation, although UTM no longer has a women’s ball hockey league. With all the changes to UTM sports, the ball hockey league has been under scrutiny from RAWC officials due to its past and reputation.
Some of the league’s current teams are Globo Gym, the Average Joes, That Cute Girl Next Door, the Screaming Sheep, and the Filthy Mitts. But don’t let the hilarious names fool you—these guys can get intense.
Recently, a game between Globo Gym and the Average Joes on February 13 became more heated than usual. Players found themselves engaging in a war of words that eventually led to a brawl. The teams in question have a history of bad blood between them. This time, the fight cost one team their season, and the other a player suspension.
Globo Gym, led by captain Rory Bourgeois, was previously forced to default a game after an injured player was replaced by a tri-campus player; a ball hockey league rule forbids teams from having more than three players at the tri-campus level. Bourgeois, Kyle Kuczynski, and Ben Gryschuk all play for the UTM men’s tri-campus ice hockey team, and the addition of another player put Globo Gym over the limit. Ball hockey rules include a two-default policy. After the second default, teams are disqualified from the league.
The second default for Globo Gym came about after their brawl with the Average Joes, due to two major penalties awarded during the brawl: one was given to Gryschuk and another to Mike McDonald. But why did the brawl take place?
According to Globo Gym’s players, it followed a racially charged insult that was directed at Gryschuk by Average Joes player Chris Gomes, which led to a fight. Gryschuk, McDonald, and Gomes were all suspended indefinitely after the brawl, along with Bourgeois, since he was a team captain who didn’t control his players.
Bourgeois also believes that the Average Joes have a “shield of immunity” in their player Joey Akleh, simultaneously acting as commissioner of the league.
“The only reason Chris Gomes is suspended is because Jack Krist happened to be within an earshot,” Bourgeois alleged. “There was no immediate intervention, and all parties instead stood around and waited to see how Ben [Gryschuk] would react.”
Gryschuk said he was disappointed that Krist didn’t step in after the comment, that all players involved had received the same punishment, and that no other action was taken by the department in regards to the racist remark. “My experience in the league has not been good so far, and if this is any indication of what campus rec sports are like, I most likely won’t be participating in them again. Most situations that happen at UTM regarding sports are not dealt with properly.”
The members of Globo Gym have raised their voices in protest to the rules enforced by the RAWC. They asked for leniency on their first infraction, since they would have forfeited the game and their campus standings if they hadn’t asked for another player (who was tri-campus). Bourgeois brushed off the first default at the time, but decided to fight the call on the team’s second default.
Program coordinator Jack Krist is aware of Globo Gym’s situation, but can’t undo their disqualification since it would be unfair to other campus rec teams who’ve suffered because of the rule. Akleh believes the rule is necessary in the campus rec league, but understands that it can be unfair to teams who have to choose between forfeiting the game and affecting their league standing, and using “illegal” players. Akleh says he would be open to amending the rule to reschedule games and avoid unnecessary forfeits due to injury or other extenuating circumstances.
Bourgeois believes that Akleh coerced referees not to award the Average Joes with their second major penalty of the game, which would have defaulted their team, too. “I received a shot to the groin and head. The ref was going to call a major, [Akleh] intervened, and the penalty was made a minor,” says Bourgeois.
Krist says that although Akleh is allowed to sit in on the review board for the incident, he holds no voting power, since his team was involved in the incident. In campus rec leagues, players can and should also be league commissioners, according to Krist. “Without these student leaders, we wouldn’t be able to have any leagues on campus,” he says. “We could hire outside officials, but the cost of doing this would cause me to have to charge students and teams to enter the leagues to offset the high cost of the officials. Our campus rec program is all-inclusive, with no extra fees being charged. This isn’t the case in a majority of other universities, including the top intramural leagues at St. George, where teams pay a cost-recovery fee to enter the league.”
Besides the cost, Krist feels that in a niche sport like ball hockey, players make the best commissioners.
Akleh, a fourth-year political science major, disagrees with Bourgeois, describing Globo Gym as consisting of “very aggressive ice hockey players who have no respect for our UTM non-contact ball hockey league”. He alleges that Gomes was originally provoked by Globo Gym’s “unsportsmanlike” behaviour. He believes that his team were the victims in this situation, having to deal with illegal hits from Bourgeois and his teammates—team that has a history of dirty play.
The situation is strange to other players in the league, including Michael Florindo, a second-year political science major who plays for the Filthy Mitts. “In the two seasons I’ve been playing in the league, I’ve never seen a situation like this. However, I have seen multiple teams disqualified due to an insufficient amount of players,” he says. Florindo believes the referees should’ve been aware of the history between the two teams and been firm in reprimanding both teams for any unfair play.
Meanwhile, That Cute Girl Next Door player Peter Ferrell is angered by the university’s stance on racist comments, and says, “UTM promotes itself as a bastion of acceptance and diversity. However, if they don’t take a stand on racial discrimination, one must call this source of pride into question.”
He also questions the league commissioner’s partiality. “One must ask oneself if he was really able to remain neutral and unbiased throughout this process, especially when one considers [that] his teammate inexplicably escaped punishment for using blatantly racist language,” he said.
Bourgeois, McDonald, Gryschuk, and Gomes have been suspended from all campus rec sports indefinitely, until they attend their review board hearing, which will take place in the next few weeks. Gomes will also be receiving a minimum four-game suspension for his remark.
This article has been slightly expanded from the print version. Another remark by Akleh and another detail about Gomes’ suspension were added.