T-Birds Digest


2014 UBC Big Block Awards and Sports Hall of Fame Dinner

Canada’s most decorated university athletics program celebrated its best and brightest stars, past and present, at the 93rd annual UBC Big Block Awards and Hall of Fame Dinner held on April 1 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. More than 900 current and former Thunderbirds were in attendance.

All photos by Rich Lam.

Hall of Fame Inductees

Two‑time Olympic rowing bronze medallist Laryssa Biesenthal and national team soccer alumna and 1993 CIS MVP Tammy Crawford were unable to accept their Hall of Fame honours in person, but former T‑Bird and international rugby great Robert Hindson made his way downtown from his Naramata vineyards to be inducted in the Athlete category. The South African‑born viticulturist had recently been inducted into the BC Rugby Hall of Fame and BC Sports Hall of Fame. Former Bobby Gaul Award winner Kevin Konar only had to navigate a short distance from his North Vancouver office to the VCC ballroom. A two‑time CFL all‑star, Konar completed an MBA at UBC in the middle of a 10‑year middle linebacker career with the BC Lions and now heads a wealth management team with RBC Dominion Securities. Former T‑Bird, national team swimmer and Renaissance man Mark Versfeld was the evening’s final inductee in the Athlete category. An Olympian in 2000 and a double medallist in the 1998 Commonwealth Games and 1998 World Championships, Versfeld is a futures trader by day and a painter by night. His work can be viewed by request along with that of former UBC team mate Sol Sallee at Remington Gallery. Dr. Laura Bennion, the founder of the modern UBC women’s ice hockey program, retrieved her lost ID just in time to make her flight from Calgary to be honoured in the Builder category. Accompanied by her parents, and husband and fellow UBC Medicine graduate Ian Auld, the former T‑bird and coach was enthusiastically received by the current team, which won UBC’s first‑ever conference championship in 2012‑13 and has posted an unprecedented 20 regular‑season victories this past year.

Members of UBC’s women’s field hockey teams from 1998‑99 and 1999‑2000 accepted their induction certificates in the Team category from 1980s team alumna Jean Forrest. Playing under now retired head coach Hash Kanjee, the two teams forged lasting bonds of friendship after posting identical 14‑1‑1 seasons and winning back‑to‑back CIS Championships in 1998 and 1999. Seven team members, Laura Balakshin, Kim Buker, Ann Harada, Stephanie Hume, Lesley Magnus, Mo O’Connor and Emily Menzies, also represented Canada in international competition. Several members of the 1986 grid Birds were inducted for going undefeated and winning arguably the most exciting Vanier Cup game in history. The outcome was famously determined by a short pass in the dying seconds from game MVP Eric Putoto to Rob Ros to seal a 25‑23 victory over the Western Mustangs. Football team alumnus and professor emeritus Ken Craig handed out the certificates, after which the team’s revered defensive coordinator, and later Toronto Varsity Blues head coach, Bob Laycoe, joined team members on stage. Former running back Terry Cochrane briefly reminisced and described “a lot of love in the room tonight.” And having used daily swims at UBC to turn the hands of time well back from his 80 years, a tanned and fit Frank Smith acknowledged the talent and efforts of his boys, noting that 10 members of the team went on the play in the CFL.

Big Block 

Women’s swim team captain and graduating Arts student Laura Thompson received the Jama Mahlalela Award for service by a student‑athlete from athletic department associate director Theresa Hanson. Named after the T‑Bird basketball alumnus and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach, the award recognizes Thompson for numerous above and beyond activities, including two years of service as president of the Thunderbird Athletes Council, and spearheading the Chance2Swim camp, which enables non‑swimmers to experience the sport. The 2013 Canada West Community Service Award winner, Academic All Canadian and three‑time CIS medallist also participated in the annual UBC Thunderbirds Habitat for Humanity homebuilding trip to El Salvador.

2013‑14 Athlete of the Year Award Winners

MAY BROWN TROPHY (graduating female athlete of the year): Kylie Barros – Golf

MARILYN POMFRET TROPHY (female athlete of the year): Lisa Barclay – Volleyball

BOBBY GAUL MEMORIAL TROPHY (graduating male athlete of the year): Andrew Firth – Baseball

BUS PHILLIPS MEMORIAL TROPHY (male athlete of the year): Luc Bruchet – Track

2013‑14 UBC National Championships

Women’s field hockeyCIS Championship (third consecutive)

Men’s soccerCIS Championship

Women’s swimmingCIS Championship (third consecutive)

Women’s crosscountryNAIA Championship (second consecutive)

Men’s and women’s crosscountry combinedNAIA Championship

Managing Director’s Message

Greetings from Point Grey to all alumni and friends of the UBC Thunderbirds.

As many of you know, the objective of the recent UBC varsity sport review was to create a framework for delivering new levels of excellence with long‑term financial sustainability. After receiving much feedback, and carefully assessing the potential of each team, we have retained 24 teams and placed each into one of three groupings (enhanced varsity, continued varsity, and hybrid funding varsity). Although grouping teams, given the complexity and uniqueness of each team’s landscape, is not perfect, this approach begins to provide a common structure for teams with similar potential and needs. The framework helps us make choices about where and how to invest resources, and how to maximize the return on those investments for our athletes, our students, and our community. There are three key outcomes to highlight.

Firstly, we now have valuable information – never gathered before – on each team. With comprehensive baselines and targets now in place, we can measure the success of our teams in a more rigorous and objective manner. This sets a foundation for a culture of accountability, where targeted support and adjustments can be made based on a team’s performance against measures of success. Coaches are leaders in performance, but they are often left to operate in isolation and it can be a lonely, difficult job. Support, interaction, feedback – these are things on which our coaches will thrive.

Secondly, we are now in a better position to bridge the very real gaps between Athletics and Recreation and the university that were identified in the 2012 review of the department. We have formally dropped our ancillary status and will pursue opportunities to create enhanced student learning and engagement across campus. Over the coming years, we will foster partnerships with expert faculty in areas such as sports administration, sport marketing event management, athlete training, sport science and sport medicine. We will work with our UBC colleagues to help our community better connect with UBC, offering sport and the Thunderbird experience as a tool for growth in social engagement and school spirit.

And finally, we can now sharpen our focus upon being a more integrated part of Canada’s sport community. Our success in swimming through partnerships with competitive swim clubs on the one hand, and our national team program on the other, is a superb example of how UBC can be a part of the playground‑to‑podium continuum of athlete and coach development. Our mandate has formally grown beyond inter‑university championships to include progression to national and professional teams. Over the years, we will align with local, provincial and national sport organizations including the Canadian Sport Institute.

Looking to the immediate future, our key areas of focus will be converting the review information into action, consolidating our visions and emerging with five‑year sport plans for each team; harnessing our resources in varsity, recreation, facilities, marketing, and finances to support our vision with a review of our organisational structure, roles and responsibilities; and addressing the considerable challenges we face over sustainability, including fundraising to meet the income required to support our 24 teams.

Although at times tumultuous, this process has sparked our community to support our teams in new and encouraging ways. Recently I was delighted to overhear one of our alumni say: “I took what I needed from my Thunderbird experience, and for years, I walked away. Now, I’m back.”

In support of these challenges, my hope is that all alumni and friends will remain engaged.


Ashley Howard
Managing Director
UBC Athletics and Recreation


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