That’s a sweeping statement, but an accurate one – and something that should make every UBC fan proud. Our Thunderbird teams have won a total of 91 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships – three in the last year alone – and that’s the best record of any university in the country. In the last academic year the Thunderbirds also won four conference titles, produced three CIS Players of the Year, and celebrated nine Coaches of the Year.
Beyond varsity, UBC Athletics also benefits the rest of the student body. At UBC Vancouver, more than 23,000 students participated in a program or intramural sport last year, and 29,000 students, alumni and other community members turned out to cheer at Thunderbird games. In Kelowna, the UBC Okanagan Heat has emerged as a competitive new UBC presence on the national scene, with remarkable successes as full members of CIS Canada West and tremendous engagement with the community.
Athletics are a rich part of UBC’s history and crucial to its future success. The annual UBC Millennium Breakfast in Vancouver and UBC Okanagan Athletics Scholarship Breakfast in Kelowna have raised $11M to date, and created generous endowments in support of student‑athletes on both campuses.
The graduation rates, the number of wins, the level of community spirit, the amount of support – all these are important markers of the program’s success, but my favourite marker is the 164 Academic All-Canadians produced on both campuses of UBC last year – student-athletes who achieve an academic standing of 80 per cent or better while playing on a varsity team.
This accomplishment illustrates what I value most about university athletics – people pursuing their passion with such gusto, and with such a degree of mentorship and support, that they can achieve otherwise unimaginable results.
When UBC champions take to the podium, they celebrate more than a win. They embody the quality of our programs and inspire their peers to work that much harder. They demonstrate that being accepted to UBC is the first step on a continual path to improvement.
UBC Athletics has been forging its own way along that path. Having conducted a major consultation and review in Vancouver in the past year, we are now in the process of implementing the recommendations.
To this end, I am committed to doing everything I can to support and promote UBC Athletics in Vancouver and in Kelowna. It will include helping to develop partnerships with the private sector, donors, and sports organizations. It will mean promoting innovation and ensuring access to the equipment, lab space, facilities and training that will support excellence. Throughout, the implementation process will be inclusive and responsive, leveraging lessons learned and affording all stakeholders a voice.
As we look to the future, it’s interesting to recall the best of our past, including the origin of the UBC Vancouver totem. In the Kwakwaka’wakw tradition, the Thunderbird is a creature so powerful that its wing beats cause the thunder and stir the wind. For UBC, it is also a symbol of reconciliation. The first Thunderbird pole – Victory through Honour – was presented to UBC by the Kwakwaka’wakw carver Ellen Neel and Chief William Scow at a homecoming game in 1948. Recognizing that UBC had been using the totem since 1934, the Kwakwaka’wakw reached out with the hand of friendship and presented the pole as a kind of blessing.
It is our ongoing challenge to do justice to that honour as we celebrate a century of tradition and firm the foundation for the next hundred years.
2014 Homecoming a Crowd Raiser
The Thunderbirds football team kicked off its season by scoring a major win with fans, drawing 4,245 of them to a sun‑drenched David Sidoo Field at Thunderbird Stadium for the September 13 Canada West home opener against the league‑leading Calgary Dinos. The largest crowd to attend a game at UBC in recent memory included alumni of all ages and a healthy contingent of students, several hundred of whom assembled at Martha Piper Plaza to take part in “The Great Trek” to the stadium plaza, where a street party was held to jump‑start football’s 90th season.
“Our staff teamed up with colleagues from alumni UBC and produced fantastic results, with huge attendance and a superbly run event,” says Ashley Howard, UBC’s managing director of Athletics and Recreation. “Calgary obviously has an extraordinary team this year, so the result wasn’t what we hoped for, but we proved that people can get excited about Thunderbird events, including students and alumni.”
Attendees included newly installed President and Vice‑Chancellor Arvind Gupta, who talked with throngs of students and participated in selfies with many of them throughout the afternoon. Thunderbird alumnus extraordinaire and recently appointed UBC governor David Sidoo joined other former team members from the 1950s right up to last season. Also in attendance was Sidoo’s former coach, the ever‑iconic Frank Smith, who at 81 still appears more than fit enough to command troops from the sidelines.
The impressive physical growth on the Point Grey campus includes new capital projects undertaken by UBC Athletics and Recreation and various partners, including work recently begun on the new National Soccer Development Centre at Thunderbird Park. The result of a $21M partnership announced in 2012 between the university, the provincial government and the Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club, the centre includes four new fields scheduled for completion in 2015, complemented by a 35,000‑square‑foot field house to follow by the end of 2016.
Meanwhile, the area north of War Memorial Gym will soon be home to a new state‑of‑the‑art Aquatic Centre that will service the needs of varsity swim teams, students and the broader UBC community. With completion scheduled for 2016, the facility is a $40M project, with a little over two‑thirds of the funding provided by UBC Properties Trust. “We are responsible for about 30 per cent of the costs so naturally this has become a major thrust in our current development efforts, but a very important one,” says Howard, adding that Athletics and Recreation is also proceeding with plans for a new baseball training facility in Thunderbird Park, thanks to a generous donor gift.
UBC Sports Hall of Fame Salutes Swimmers
During UBC Swimming’s “Decade of Dominance” from 1998 to 2007, the men’s and women’s teams both captured 10 consecutive CIS crowns. The 2015 Big Block Club Awards and Sports Hall of Fame Dinner will feature a tribute to all UBC varsity swimmers of this period in what will be the largest‑ever induction in the Team category, involving some 125 team members. Olympians Brian Johns and Kelly Stefanyshyn, who lead all UBC swimmers in CIS career medal count with 34 and 31 respectively, will also be inducted in the Athlete category. But the loudest ovation of the evening may be reserved for Tom Johnson, the founder and architect of the modern UBC swim program, who is being honoured in the Builder category. The Montreal native took over from Jack Kelso as UBC swim coach almost 25 years ago. A veteran Olympics team coach, Johnson produced countless international competitors and synchronized the resources of UBC’s program with the famed Pacific Dolphins to form a revered national swim centre at UBC in 1998. The Sports Hall of Fame tribute will take place almost 50 years to the day after Jack Pomfret’s 1964‑65 men’s swim team won UBC’s first‑ever CIS (then CIAU) championship in any sport.
ZLC Financial Group To Host Millennium Scholarship Breakfast
“I would like to make a reservation for 1,200 for breakfast, please.” Ever since he became director of Development for UBC Athletics and Recreation, Steve Tuckwood has called the Vancouver Convention Centre every year with pretty much the same request. The Millennium Scholarship Breakfast started in 1999 to create scholarship endowments for UBC varsity athletes, and to date has raised more than $10M. One of the keys to its success has been matching funds provided by the University, which has effectively doubled the net proceeds from ticket sales. With ZLC Financial Group recently signing on as title sponsor, and Tuckwood close to confirming a speaker with ties to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s full speed ahead for the 15th annual breakfast on February 24.
Looking further ahead, UBC Athletics and Recreation staff and a team of eager student and alumni volunteers will soon be making plans to host the 2016 CIS Final Eight Men’s Basketball Championships. “It will be the first time in over 30 years the Championship has been held in Western Canada,” said director of Athletics, Operations and Student‑Athlete Services Theresa Hanson, who tabled the successful bid to host the three‑day Canadian version of March Madness. Interestingly, the last time UBC hosted the national championships was 1972, when the late Peter Mullins coached his UBC charges to a crowning finish. Led by a 43‑point performance by graduating senior Ron Thorsen, the only UBC player ever to be drafted into the NBA, the Thunderbirds dispatched the University of Windsor Lancers 117‑84 in the tournament final.