McFarlane retires from Queen’s

Chair of Athletics and Recreation hangs it up after 29 years of service

John McFarlane spoke from his office about his decision to retire after 29 years.
John McFarlane spoke from his office about his decision to retire after 29 years.

After 29 years at Queen’s, John McFarlane announced his retirement as Chair of Athletics and Recreation on Tuesday. His last day on the job will be Aug. 31.

“I’ve certainly thought about [retirement] for the last couple of years, and I don’t think there’s ever a perfect time to depart or to exit,” he said. “But I certainly am departing with a positive outlook for me and for whoever comes in to oversee this.”

McFarlane was named chair of Athletics and Recreation 11 years ago, having previously served in a number of administrative positions including facility management, recreation, interuniversity capacities and intramurals. As coach of the men’s and women’s tennis teams, he led Queen’s to eight provincial and one national championship over a 21-year period.

During his lengthy tenure at Queen’s, McFarlane championed initiatives like the Golden Gaels Coaching Hall of Fame. Most recently, McFarlane played a central role in proposing the $230-million Queen’s Centre, scheduled to begin construction in the spring.

“I think that it’s not a bad time for transition,” he said. “The Queen’s Centre is going to be a 10-year project. I knew I wouldn’t be here in 10 years … so the question became, ‘when will it be a good time to go?’”

With a lengthy construction process looming in the future, McFarlane said he decided that it was time for transition.

“We’re sort of at a turning point in the athletics and recreation field, and we’ve worked very hard behind the scenes to get our new Queen’s Centre—and it’s actually going to happen—which is very exciting,” he said. “We are also going to get an artificial turf on Main Campus. We’re at the design stage for schematics for a new West Campus Centre of Excellence and Development for outdoor sports, with a new stadium. These are all big projects that take some time.”

On top of working for almost 30 years with Queen’s Athletics and Recreation, McFarlane was also an athlete during his time as a student here from 1968 to 1973.

As a varsity tennis player, he captured four junior and adult championship titles.

“Including my undergraduate time here, I’ve probably been at Queen’s for 35 or 36 years,” he said. “I’d like to spend a little more time with my family and to have a little more time to golf, curl, and do a few things … I have decent health now, and I’d like to enjoy it.”

Aside from his efforts to improve Queen’s athletics, McFarlane has also been an active voice at both the provincial and national levels of collegiate athletics. He chaired the OUA planning committee that developed the “New Sports Model,” which is currently the framework for university sports in Ontario. McFarlane also led the drive to encourage the CIS to accept a minimum academic standard for student-athletes across Canada.

McFarlane said he has enjoyed working with students at Queen’s to continually improve the state of athletics and recreation on campus.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the students. And I’m not just talking the student-athletes, [but also] the AMS, the student governments—you just see their support for things like the Queen’s Centre. It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “Other universities don’t seem to have that trusting relationship. That’s one thing that I’ve always enjoyed here. If the students want to challenge something, they aren’t afraid to do it, and that’s really good. Ultimately if something isn’t good, it should be challenged, and we try to adjust and change.” McFarlane said he hopes Queen’s athletics will continue to look out for the best interests of each student-athlete. One initiative he has championed to help improve the experience of student-athletes in Ontario is the implementation of first-year scholarships.

“The rest of the country has athletic financial awards for the entrance level. In Ontario we don’t,” he said. “I just sat on a task force that formulated a report that has gone to the Ontario Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, and at this stage one of the major recommendations is [that we adopt] first-party athletic awards.”

He expressed hope that in the future the OUA will allow athletic scholarships for first-year students, and that student-athletes will be better recognized for their talent.

“We’re all in the education business, and some people’s perspectives of education are narrow and restrictive,” he said. “I would suggest that probably one of the most positive things that I have been able to contribute has been working with the academic community to allow them to better appreciate how unique the student-athlete is … a student athlete who puts in all those hours and is an 88-per cent student is at least as worthy as perhaps a student with four or five per cent higher that hasn’t been involved with any extra curricular [activities]?”

Looking ahead, McFarlane said he is excited about where Queen’s Athletics and Recreation is heading, and hopes to see the progress continue when he is gone.

“I encourage whoever takes over from me to review and take a look at our program,” he said. “We did reshape it slightly three years ago and I think now, as we move towards the new facilities, we need to take a second look and decide what we are going to strive to be excellent in and how we are going to get there.

“Whoever comes in here needs to have a love and a passion for sport and understand it in the University environment,” he said. “I’m sure that they will provide solid leadership, and make sure that the student-athlete comes first.”

McFarlane added that he won’t actually be leaving Queen’s behind as he moves into retirement, and said he intends to continue to teach in the physical education department this fall.

“It’s been a job that I’ve treated with passion, and I really have loved it—but it does require a great deal of time and energy and effort,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have had a good staff to work with both administratively and coaching-wise.

“I’m very committed to this University and the program. My timelines are personal ones—they’re not locked into having to leave,” he said. “I’ll always support Queen’s, and even though I’m not going to be [Chair of Athletics and Recreation] anymore, I’ll continue to follow the Gaels with great interest.”

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