Varsity athlete culture is undergoing a fundamental face-lift.
For years, Queen’s Athletics Manager of Interuniversity Sport, Janean Sergeant, took an educational approach to keep athletes out of trouble. She oversees each of the 13 varsity teams, monitoring athlete conduct.
Now the approach seeks to protect Queen’s image by damaging it a little; creating public ramifications for athletes who act “inappropriately.”
A series of athlete suspensions — starting with the baseball team’s veterans who were suspended two years for hazing incidents in 2010 — was really just a case of Queen’s Athletics making sanctions more visible.
Suspensions have been handed out for years, but sanctions were kept confidential prior to 2010.
“Reports and stuff and outcomes were not as visible as they are now,” Sergeant said. “In doing that, I don’t think we really helped our own cause. Some may have felt it doesn’t matter what you do — there are no outcomes.”
Rookie parties are no longer considered team-bonding rituals. Rather than revolt, Queen’s varsity athletes are starting to get on board with the rise of professionalism in interuniversity sport.
The Varsity Leadership Council (VLC) is a Gaels student-athlete-run committee formed last summer. Its objectives are to increase athlete’s roles within Kingston’s community, while developing a sense of fraternity amongst each other.
It’s a shift which signals that the top-down oversight from Athletics is becoming less necessary.
“[Athletes are] the ones who can take a major leadership role. They’re the ones who can decide we want our team to be recognized, to be known, to be ambassadors or be in the headlines,” Sergeant said.
The VLC, which was formed after Queen’s Athletics approached current co-presidents Robert Stellick and Shannon Walsh about its inception, has gained traction since.
Stellick, a fourth-year men’s hockey player, said the VLC’s a channel through which athletes can actively volunteer as community role models.
“There are expectations with the opportunities we’re afforded,” Stellick said. “We’re athletes — we’re in a position of being a role model with kids in the Kingston community and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”
Representing the tricolour spirit now means more community involvement and less internal shenanigans. Stellick thinks more publicity through Internet and news stories makes athletes more conscious of their actions.
“In the age of social media, posting things on the Internet immediately … things come out in a different way than they did 10, 15 years ago,” Stellick said. “So I think those incidents are on a decline.”
Across the board, Queen’s isn’t the only school cracking down. Dalhousie University recently suspended its women’s hockey team for the season for alleged inappropriate hazing incidents.
Stellick, who played in the Ontario Hockey League for the Belleville Bulls, claims hazing is noticeably less a part of junior hockey culture.
“People are conscious of bullying, people are conscious of those types of psychological effects,” Stellick said. “And it’s really just a no-tolerance policy across the board.”
Stellick’s former teammate and current men’s hockey assistant coach Jon Lawrance recalls wild stories from his days of playing junior hockey in Manitoba.
“Obviously you hear about people being sent to the hospital after rookie parties, they drank so much — just doing stupid stuff,” Lawrance said.
Rookies would have to strip down to their underwear and run obstacles around town. The former Gaels captain said he was fortunate to never have been involved.
“Stuff like that doesn’t really achieve anything. [It] just shines a bad light on everyone that’s involved.”
Lawrance said the new hardline approach by administrators seems to be working.
“There’s stuff that’s still going on, but over the years it’s gotten more attention. It’s definitely decreased a lot more from back in the day.”
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