By Jordan Whitehouse |
When Scott Gray became Saint Mary’s newest Director of Athletics and Recreation in November, it was almost 25 years to the day that he helped beat the Huskies in the Vanier Cup as a football player with the Queen’s University Golden Gaels. “It’s funny how the world works,” says the 1993 Queen’s Arts and Physical Education grad. “You never know where you’re going to end up.”
But now that he’s here, he’s on a mission: to make sure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to participate in sport and recreation at Saint Mary’s. It’s unfortunate, he says, but in his first few months on the job, he’s discovered that some students believe the sport and recreation facilities on campus are only for varsity athletes. They aren’t, of course, and he wants to change that perception. “Those facilities are for everyone,” he says, “whether you are a football player, or you like to participate in some of our recreational programming, or you just like to walk the track. We’re here for everyone, and I want to make sure we’re communicating that message.”
A key part of that communication piece will be about engaging the growing international student population, even further in sport and recreation on campus, he says. Already you see that happening with more students taking part in non-traditional Canadian sports like cricket, and with more inclusive activities like fitness classes taught in Mandarin.
More generally, it’ll also be about taking every opportunity to engage with the entire student population, so that he and his team can better gauge exactly what students want. Which new sports and recreation activities do they want to play on campus? How can Athletics and Recreation improve the student experience at varsity games? What new equipment and facilities do they want see?
To get answers, Gray and his team will be taking surveys, making themselves available at campus-wide events, like open-air markets, and sitting down with student government.
That “open-door approach,” as Gray likes to call it, is something he’s fine-tuned over the years as a head coach and assistant coach of various sports at the recreational, collegiate, and university levels. He’s also held a variety of leadership roles within both the Canadian and Ontario Collegiate Athletic Associations. Most recently, he led the athletics department at Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology for over 10 years, where he also helped lead the initiative to build a new $13.3 million Health and Wellness Centre.
So why all this passion about sport and recreation? Because he’s read the evidence and seen the positive impact that physical activity can have on one’s life. “Research shows that physical activity enhances brain activity, but more than that, it’s just an important part of our overall well-being,” he says. “Here at Saint Mary’s, I want sport and recreation to be seen as an opportunity for students to take care of themselves, to turn their brains off for a little bit of time each day, to enjoy themselves.”
As a former student athlete at Queen’s, Gray also knows firsthand how sport and recreation can foster new friendships that last a lifetime. Though it’s been 25 years since he helped win that Vanier Cup against the Huskies (on a broken ankle, by the way), he’s still good friends with many of his teammates.
At Saint Mary’s, though, his attention is squarely on the future.
“What I experienced 25 years ago at university is very different from what today’s student does,” says Gray. “So that’s why my door is open. I want to know what students want. That’s my biggest focus right now.”