And the band did not play on

Musical presence at varsity games promotes school spirit

And the band did not play on

In NCAA sports, a school’s marching band plays a vital role in the overall game day atmosphere. The noise elicits excitement in the stands, and the band’s performances entice more fans to attend games. Marching bands at division one schools like Ohio State and USC put on intricate half time shows to entertain attendees; these bands bring a sense of pride and spirit to the student body.

Last September, I was hired as a promoter for U of T’s varsity sports program. I was very excited and surprised to learn that U of T actually paid students to attend games and promote the program to fans. As I thought about it more though, I realized that this suggests that U of T needs to pay students by the hour to help draw fans, since the football, hockey, and basketball teams aren’t able to draw crowds on their own.              

At the first Blues football game against the Queen’s Gaels, I was pleasantly surprised to see cheerleaders, halftime entertainment, and concessions stands: it felt like a real college football experience. The Queen’s team entered the stadium with a full marching band, which was able to perform on the field throughout the game. The band created a spirited energy in their fan section — unfortunately U of T didn’t have anything to match the musical Gaels.              

Darnell Girard, an ex-Blues football player explained, “It’s pretty evident by the attendance at our games that spirit is lacking here… by being a player you definitely see the lack of it.”

At a school of over 60,000 students spread across three campuses, it is hard to foster school spirit. But as the top university in Canada, U of T may want to look into adding an official marching band to the varsity roster.

U of T students show glimpses of school spirit during frosh week, when students cheer and represent their colleges in a huge parade down St. George Street.

It appears that school spirit is created in “smaller units as something to build off of,” explained Will Merrik, Joonyur Bnad Leedur of U of T’s the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad.  “So for us, we have the band, we have our own skule, s-k-u-l-e, spirit. We need to cultivate that and kindle it through the year and not just here, it has to continue.”

The bnad is an open and accepting student group that allows anyone to join and play an instrument, but it is technically not a ‘marching band’. Skulepedia accurately refers to it as a “meandering band.”

When asked if a marching band would add energy during game day, Girard explained, “[The crowd would] be aroused… it might actually let them know when to cheer.”

Girard went on to mention that the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad ended up having a huge impact on the atmosphere whenever they attended games. “The crowd support seemed to double, triple maybe… it’s something we could really benefit from,” he explained.

Merrik added that it “would certainly serve to bring together people from different faculties and different schools under that flag of school spirit once again.”

As U of T has invested a lot of money and resources into their varsity teams, it would be great to see the student body show more appreciation and excitement over their sports teams. A marching band will undoubtedly draw more fans to games and increase school spirit among U of T’s vast student body.

Regional CFL Combine raises draft stock of Blues

Will regional performances be enough to attract the attention of CFL scouts?

Regional CFL Combine raises draft stock of Blues

With the CFL draft approaching, it’s time to get to know the CFL Toronto Combine, which took place from March 10 to 13. The combine, broadly put, is a showcase of this year’s CFL prospects.

The participants for the national combine are chosen from three regional combines, but a high quality performance at a regional combine does not guarantee a national combine appearance.

In the 2014 regional combine, former Varsity Blue Christopher Johnson posted the fastest 40-yard dash time, highest vertical jump, and longest broad jump among linebackers. In spite of these accomplishments, he did not receive an invite to the national combine.

As important as exposure is to the draft, the national combine is not the only way CFL scouts evaluate athletes. While the combine can boost a player’s draft stock, scouts take an athlete’s entire body of work into consideration — this includes studying tapes of games, interviews with coaches and players, and regional combine results.

This year, a total of four Blues — DJ Sackey, Boris Isakov, Zack Lukings, and Farouk Musa — competed at the regional combine. Although none received invites to the national combine, this should not necessarily dissuade their draft stock.

Third-year offensive lineman Sackey will have another year with the Blues, while Isakov, Lukings, and Musa will have to hope that their current accomplishments are enough to get them invited to a CFL roster. While Sackey can be confident in his second place finish amongst lineman in the vertical leap, he looks to improve on his bench press and broad jump measurements.

Musa, who graduated in 2014, is hoping to crack a roster somewhere in the CFL after posting a 4.927 second 40-yard dash time. That time was good enough for third place at the regional combine among linebackers; the only two ahead of him were NCAA products.

Meanwhile, fellow graduate Zack Lukings posted the second fastest 40-yard dash time among defensive lineman, at 5.194.

Isakov, who transferred to the Blues in 2013 from the Queen’s Gaels, led the Blues in receiving yards in 2015. He had assumed his football playing days were over once the season ended. Then the CFL came calling. “I thought my football career was over,” said Isakov, “that’s when coach asked me to come in and told me there’s a couple of CFL teams that were interested in seeing what I could do.”

At the regional combine, Isakov posted a 4.31 second shuttle cone drill time, good for fourth among all participants at the combine. He says the environment around him helped. “Just to have friends and family and teammates and everyone there supporting… I feel like that really pushed me to have better results and a lot of drills I had personal bests because of that.”

These prospects, coming from both the CIS and the NCAA, put themselves through a gauntlet of football skill-testing drills in front of CFL scouts. With the stakes so high, the pressure can cause some to crack.

In spite of that pressure, several recent Blues have excelled at the combine. Prior to this year’s combine, former Blue Aaron Milton finished top amongst running backs in the 3-cone and short shuttle drills. Milton received a bid to the national combine that year, and he now plays for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Although there were no Blues invited to this years national combine, Christopher Johnson’s story may leave the Blues hopeful that CFL signing can still happen. The extra exposure Aaron Milton received from the national combine likely helped his draft stock. Exposure at the combine is important, however, it is far from integral. Isakov, Musa, and Lukings, may have hope that their portfolios are impressive enough to warrant a draft pick.

For Sackey, he may hope the that if he doesn’t get drafted this year, an additional year of eligibility will catch the eyes of scouts across the CFL.

CIS vs. NCAA basketball

Where is Canada’s March Madness?

CIS vs. NCAA basketball

March has arrived, and for many sports fans it’s the greatest time of the year. March Madness — one of the most prominent sporting events in North America — will kick off this week and promises match-ups between some of the best intercollegiate athletes in the world.

The tournament is comprised of Division I NCAA men’s basketball teams, who compete for the national championship. Due to the size of the men’s basketball court in the US, only certain teams are selected to participate in the competition; these teams were chosen yesterday on Selection Sunday.

Akin to CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) conferences like the OUA, NCAA conferences — like the Big East and Big Sky — compete and are eventually whittled down, until only the top two teams remain. 

The entire tournament is televised on major sports networks like TSN and Sports Centre, similar to the NBA championship — an incredible feat considering that there are no professional athletes involved. March Madness is an important time for Division I players, as some college players are recruited to play for the NBA. 

While March Madness enthralls many collegiate basketball fans, there are also plenty of talented university basketball players competing in Canada. 

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that CIS teams are garnering the skills necessary to compete with NCAA teams. Without a doubt, the NCAA features more up-and-coming superstars and polished athletes (due in part to fierce recruiting and full-ride scholarships). Nevertheless, the CIS is closer to the NCAA than most people think.   

For the past few seasons, some of the top Canadian university teams have faced off against the NCAA in pre-season exhibition games. Despite the difficulty of assessing if these matchups measure the competitiveness of Canadian teams — as they were played in the pre-season — it is still important to consider how Canadian teams have fared. 

Last summer, the Baylor Bears, a Big 12 Conference team, played Canada’s top college basketball team, the Carleton Ravens. Carleton held their ground as they went 1-1 against the NCAA powerhouse, winning their second game by six after marginally losing their first game by two points. In the summer of 2014, the Ottawa Gee-Gees also beat the Indiana Hoosiers, while Carleton beat Vermont. These CIS wins suggest that Canadian teams can play at a competitive level and hold their own against top American teams. 

A few games played in the pre-season are not enough to compare the CIS with the NCAA.

In the NBA, the Toronto Raptors have grown tremendously in the past 21 seasons. They have made their way up the Eastern Conference and are serious contenders for a championship, despite being the only Canadian team in the league.

Why hold March Madness just for American basketball teams? Clearly, CIS teams have enjoyed some success against NCAA teams. This integration would be an enormous step forward for Canadian basketball. 

In the past year, many Canadian talents such as Simi Shittu and Christian David transferred from Canadian high schools to American preparatory schools in order to increase their professional exposure. Canada Basketball must find a way to retain and nurture their own talents. One way to achieve this could be through connecting the CIS and NCAA in a tournament like March Madness featuring teams from both associations.

Basketball has been improving tremendously in Canada both in terms of popularity and talent, and we also have the fans and the support to cultivate more teams and players. It is time to put these tools to use and truly compete with the US at the collegiate level and above.

All we do is win, win, win, no matter what

Big week for Varsity Blues athletes

All we do is win, win, win, no matter what

While U of T students gear up for classes after reading week, many varsity athletes didn’t get much of a break. Multiple teams competed in a throng of meets throughout reading week.

The Varsity Blues men’s and women’s swim teams came home with Ontario University Athletics (OUA) banners; the track and field squad took on international competition in Washington and Ohio; and the men’s volleyball team shut-out number one team McMaster, while the women capped off a perfect regular season.

Swimming

The Varsity Blues swim teams didn’t disappoint during the OUA championships in London. Hosted by the Western Mustangs, the Blues dominated the competition with both teams’ closest challengers, the Mustangs, over 280 points away from the Blues women’s 1,049 point total and the men’s 1,019.

Over the course of the competition the Blues broke multiple OUA and national records, amounting to 18 in total. Second-year Kylie Masse led the women’s team, taking home four individual gold medals — one of which came in her national record breaking 100m backstroke race. Masse was named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) athlete of the week for her successes.

On the men’s side, third-year Hochan Ryu drowned the competition and was named the male OUA swimmer of the year, earning four individual gold medals, including a meet record; he was also a member of two of the Blues gold medal winning relay teams. The OUA banners signal the thirteenth straight banner win for the men and the third for the women. The wins place the squads comfortably at the top of the CIS leaderboards.

Track and field

Athletes from the Varsity Blues track and field team headed to the states for some division one competition when they attended the Husky Classic at the University of Washington and the Spire Invitational in Geneva, Ohio.

Sending teams comprised mainly of runners, the men’s team was lead by fourth-year veteran Sacha Smart who won the 600 m and 800 m competitions in Seattle. Smart, who competed on the Blues cross-country team in the fall, placed fifth in the 600 m at last year’s CIS championship. Sprinters Rayshaun Franklin and Isiah Weathers also enjoyed podium finishes in Seattle, placing first and third, respectively, in the men’s 300 m race.

Third-year distance athlete Gabriela Stafford not only placed second in the women’s 3000 m race, but also did it in a world championship qualifying time of 8:54.87 — a clocking which would have won the competition in 2014. Representing U of T’s field athletes was fifth-year horizontal jumper Julia Stille who, in keeping with her podium finishes throughout the season, placed second in the long and triple jump competitions.

The women’s track and field team sits at the top of the CIS leader board with a comfortable lead, while the men’s squad is just shy of 30 points behind powerhouse Windsor.

Volleyball

In an incredible demonstration of grit, the number four Varsity Blues men’s volleyball team defeated the top ranked Marauders in five sets to ruin McMaster’s perfect regular season.

The win, aided by a game high 23 kill performance from William Colucci, seemed to give the Blues a confidence boost, which carried them through wins against the Guelph Gryphons a day later, and an electrifying five set win over the Western Mustangs on Friday.

The win over the Mustangs awarded the Blues an OUA homecoming 12 years in the making, as the squad will play host to an OUA playoff game for the first time since 2004. Following a win over the Windsor Lancers on Saturday, the squad improved their winning streak to five.

Not to be outdone, the Blues women’s volleyball team completed a 19-0 regular season on Saturday with a win over the Lancers. Dropping only two sets all season, the women’s team sits five points behind UBC’s Okanagan campus who lead the CIS with 60 points. Last years OUA champions, the Blues will attempt to defend their banner this Saturday at the Goldring Centre in OUA quarterfinal action.