Alberta Pandas field hockey folds

Athletics director cuts program, Canadian field hockey community responds

The national field hockey community is rallying together to support the newly-defunct University of Alberta Pandas.

On March 1, Alberta’s Athletics Director Ian Reade told the field hockey team that the administration would be cutting the 32-year-old program.

After learning of the Alberta decision, Queen’s field hockey coach Mary-Anne Reid said her colleagues at other Canadian field hockey programs started sending out emails.

Reid told the Journal there has been collective opposition to the news, and that she hopes Alberta officials will reconsider the decision.

“The field hockey community has started emailing each other,” she said, adding that Facebook groups have been created to support the Pandas. “It’s a tight-knit community ... We have a big ground of support to back [the Pandas] up.”

U of A’s student newspaper, the Gateway, reported that Reade told the field hockey team that he wasn’t satisfied with the success of field hockey in Canada as a whole.

But since most national team members come through the Canadian university system, the athletic director’s decision might further damage the sport.

“Most national players come through the CIS,” coach Reid said. “This is unfortunate for the CIS because the Pandas had such a strong program.”

Alberta’s decision to cut the program might jeopardize the entire Canada West conference, now reduced to three teams. But even though four teams are generally required for conferences to run leagues, CIS CEO Marg McGregor said Canada West teams will continue to play next season.

McGregor said she wasn’t contacted by Alberta Athletics, and only learned about their decision to cut the field hockey program through press releases.

“It’s never good news when a university decides that they are withdrawing a team, but it’s completely at the discretion of the university,” she said, adding that the CIS will contact every field hockey program in the country in the coming weeks to ensure the sport will remain safe.

“We’re going to take the next three weeks to talk to current teams to determine their long-term intentions,” she said. “We’re also going to talk to Field Hockey Canada.”

Coach Reid said she doesn’t think Alberta’s decision will affect the Queen’s program.

“It’s a problem for the [Canada West conference],” she said. “In the OUA, we still have a few extra schools hoping to join.”

When Queen’s Athletics unveiled its Competitive Sports Model in 2009, field hockey was made into a Varsity Club — dropping them a tier below their previous Varsity Team status. But Reid said the program has a safe and comfortable relationship with the administration.

“We have had lots of support to re-establish ourselves in this club model,” she said.

The Gaels went 0-9-3 this season, finishing at the bottom of the OUA, outside of a playoff spot.

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