Varsity athletics earns respect

John
John Browne
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New attitude, more help gives MUN program much-needed lift

Michelle Healey shows a hint of a smile as she glances out her office window in Memorial University's Physical Education Building.

"The old soccer field has turned into a duck pond, pretty much," she says looking at a puddle-filled, ragged piece of turf that used to be the school's field hockey pitch a long time ago.

Memorial mascot Sammy the Sea Hawk is a hit with fans. Telegram file photo

Michelle Healey shows a hint of a smile as she glances out her office window in Memorial University's Physical Education Building.

"The old soccer field has turned into a duck pond, pretty much," she says looking at a puddle-filled, ragged piece of turf that used to be the school's field hockey pitch a long time ago.

Times have changed in terms of facilities and attitude at MUN, and Healey's been around long enough to see them change.

The varsity Sea-Hawks soccer teams now play on FieldTurf at King George V Park and basketball in the sparkling Field House. Yet, while the teams enjoy first-rate facilities these days, there's a lingering perception within the local sports community that Memorial University hierarchy has been somewhat apathetic towards varsity sports in general.

Healey, however, says that attitude - real or imagined - does not persist today.

"Varsity athletics has found a bit of a niche now," said Healey, a former Sea-Hawks basketball star. "I think there is greater support for varsity sports on campus.

"We were lucky enough to have had some people in leadership positions - people like Dr. Eddy Campbell - who understood the value of sport and what it can bring to the institution."

Campbell, who had a MUN varsity basketball background and held the position of acting president and vice-chancellor, has since moved on to become president of the University of New Brunswick.

However, his influence, as brief as it was, seems to have had a lasting impact.

"There's a definite change since I was first at MUN," said Healey, the former basketball star who had been the program co-ordinator with Memorial Athletics since 1999, and was named the university's first-ever full-time director of athletics in 2006.

"The (varsity sports) profile is different," said Healey. "The way that varsity sport is looked at internally is different. I think a little bit of a light switched on the year (2003) we played host to the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) women's basketball and, in particular, the year (2007) we hosted the Canadian interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship."

Both tournaments drew big crowds to the Field House, and the local organizing committees earned kudos for well-run tournaments.

"People saw the level of excitement that sport can bring," said Healey. "That (CIS) event brought university senior people out and it was eyes wide open for them at that point. I think they realized that we could potentially market the university strategically through varsity athletics."

As director of athletics, Healey is responsible for developing, promoting, managing and evaluating the varsity athletics programs. Her other duties include leading and overseeing the management of the university's varsity sports programs; building and fostering a team environment for Memorial athletics and serving as the primary ambassador for all athletics programs, the university and its partners.

She said a bigger emphasis on the varsity sports program can raise a university's profile across the country and make it easier to recruit athletes.

For example, Healey said she doesn't know what Cape Breton University's philosophy has been, "but they've definitely chosen sports as a mechanism to put their institution on the map."

CBU, with a student population of about 2,500, has won 14 AUS championships in the more prominent sports of men's and women's basketball and soccer. In contrast, Memorial, with a student population of 17,500, has won seven women's basketball championships in the past 16 years and four men's soccer titles, the last of which came in 1973.

"In the past five or so years, the university has seen the value in what the women's basketball has been able to do as far as MUN's profile on the national scene," said Healey.

She said CBU, for example, has definitely raised its profile through varsity athletics.

"You ask schools across Canada 15 years ago and nobody could tell you where UCCB (University College of Cape Breton as it was known then) was. Now everyone in the country knows about Cape Breton University."

If there was apathy among MUN's higher-ups in the past, there's an ongoing problem with student indifference towards varsity sports in general.

However, MUN is not alone in that regard.

Healey said, from what she has gathered over the years, all AUS schools, "struggle to get students on campus out to games."

She said her department continues to look for ways to encourage students to come out to varsity competition.

"We've gone so far as to provide free admission to games for all first-year students on campus. You'll get them to come out to some games but, for the most part, they don't come back.

"We've worked on various projects with student affairs, but unless you are offering something like a big giveaway, we don't seem to be getting much in return."

Healey said early indoctrination is probably the way to go.

"Every year, there are 2,500 new students who come to MUN. The first day students come in, we have to show them they are a part of the Sea-Hawks brand."

jbrowne@thetelegram.com




AUS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Memorial University has 31 Atlantic University Sport (formerly Atlantic-Universities Athletic Association) championship banners.
Track and field 8
Basketball 7
Swimming 5
Soccer 4
Cross-country running 4
Volleyball 3

Organizations: University College of Cape Breton, Sea-Hawks, Atlantic University Sport Field House FieldTurf Cape Breton University University of New Brunswick

Geographic location: MUN, King George V Park

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • stripes
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    high school students, parents and University alumni all over Saskatchewan wear Huskies (UofS) or Cougar (Uof Regina) clothing----daily. We are all proud to cheer for their teams--proudly. The Sea Hawks desreve the same recognition--but it does not come overnight--I will help out by ordering some clothing on-line

  • Jessica
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Dal offers free admission to all students for all games, with the exception of AUS championships I believe. But I don't think MUN could offer the same and still make a profit. After being around both schools and their athletics departments, Dal definitely has greater support from alumni and the community itself (yes I realize Halifax is a bigger city and also has St. Mary's University).

  • Bones
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    All this is made possible because of the great leadership of our wonderfull Premier Danny Williams. Without him nothing is possible. With him everything is possible.

  • Jason
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    we have to show them that they are a part of the sea-hawks brand ??? you have got to be kidding me. Every company today is doing the same deal. you have to be part of our product, part of our name I went to Mun to learn not to have that product branded onto me and even then they failed to a degree. had I had my time back I would have taken that offer to Dalhousie.

  • stripes
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    high school students, parents and University alumni all over Saskatchewan wear Huskies (UofS) or Cougar (Uof Regina) clothing----daily. We are all proud to cheer for their teams--proudly. The Sea Hawks desreve the same recognition--but it does not come overnight--I will help out by ordering some clothing on-line

  • Jessica
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Dal offers free admission to all students for all games, with the exception of AUS championships I believe. But I don't think MUN could offer the same and still make a profit. After being around both schools and their athletics departments, Dal definitely has greater support from alumni and the community itself (yes I realize Halifax is a bigger city and also has St. Mary's University).

  • Bones
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    All this is made possible because of the great leadership of our wonderfull Premier Danny Williams. Without him nothing is possible. With him everything is possible.

  • Jason
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    we have to show them that they are a part of the sea-hawks brand ??? you have got to be kidding me. Every company today is doing the same deal. you have to be part of our product, part of our name I went to Mun to learn not to have that product branded onto me and even then they failed to a degree. had I had my time back I would have taken that offer to Dalhousie.