Note: This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. While athletics are central to St. Michael’s, current social distancing measures have put this part of campus life on hold.
Central to St. Michael’s since its founding, athletics continues to reflect our commitment to educating the whole person
A new skating rink in the quad is the latest reminder that athletics matter to the University of St. Michael’s College. Walk through campus and you’ll see a pick-up game of basketball or a quick toss of a Frisbee outside the COOP. Intra-mural teams are thriving, and we currently are home to 98 varsity athletes, competing in 21 different sports.
It’s no accident that St. Mike’s has a storied history of athletics. One of our guiding principles has always been that supporting athletics reflects a commitment to the formation of the whole person, with the physical rigours of the playing field complementing the intellectual rigours of the classroom.
Athletics also serve as a major source of community and school spirit, whether students are involved primarily with an intramural team or with a nationally ranked Varsity Blues squad. Participation offers a way to develop gifts shared in community, an expression of our calling to service.
St. Michael’s has long been a sports powerhouse. As noted in Edward J. Monahan’s (USMC Class of 1949) Teach Me Goodness, Truth and Knowledge: A History of St. Michael’s College, for example, in the first half of the 20th century, St. Mike’s rose to become a regional centre of collegiate athletics. We even had Basilians competing for St. Mike’s: one notable example is Father David Bauer, who helped a 1945 SMC team win the Memorial Cup, and who gave up a career in the NHL to join the priesthood. He later coached Canada’s Olympic hockey team, and was admitted to the Hockey Hall of Fame posthumously in 1988.
Today, a whopping 33 members of this year’s Varsity Blues Football team call St. Mike’s home, attracted by our reputation for being a supportive community aware of the importance of athletics. We can say with confidence that St. Mike’s is the college of choice for athletically minded students.
My introduction to St. Mike’s athletics came when I moved into residence here as a student in 1995. In May of that year I flew to the Big Smoke from Victoria B.C. to find a place to live for the Fall. I knew only one person in Toronto, a former high school classmate named Laura. She nixed my idea of searching off-campus, telling me to look for a dorm. When I asked for a recommendation, she said: “St. Mike’s. It’s Catholic, it’s a big sports college and it’s right across the street.” The prospect of living close to my only Toronto friend became even more appealing after meeting her roommate, a beautiful Victoria College student to whom I’ve now been married for the past 18 years, but I digress.
I soon discovered why Laura referred to St. Mike’s as a “big sports college.” The residence houses all competed for the coveted Dean’s Cup sports trophy, the College’s teams were perennial contenders in U of T’s intramural leagues, and St. Mike’s was the only college to have its own fully stocked weight room.
One day, as I chatted with housemates in the Canada Room, one of the dons dropped by to say he’d been asked to recruit players for the annual ‘alumni vs students’ football game. Our group didn’t ask many follow-up questions because it sounded like the perfect way to spend a Fall afternoon.
But it wasn’t until I played in that Boozer Brown game in mid-October that I realized how deep the sports roots ran at St. Mike’s. U of T’s football program had run from 1895 to 1994, for example, and during that 100-year span, St. Mike’s had won the Mulock Cup 12 times, including ‘back-to-back-to-back’ victories the final three years. No wonder former players were so eager to relive their glory days.
The alumni team was composed of players from a now-defunct intra-mural league that used to play tackle football. Due to liability issues the tackle program had folded a couple years prior, but the alumni weren’t about to let their annual tradition die with the league. These guys were premier athletes in their day and this game was an excuse to return to their alma mater and prove they hadn’t lost a step.
As our respective squads began running drills, I sized up the competition. Some looked older than my father while others appeared younger than my then-25-year-old self. St. Mike’s jerseys of uncertain vintage were worn proudly but loosely due to the absence of pads, and a few of the old-timers brought their families along, lending a homecoming-type feel. Led by the larger-than-life booster Phil Giroday (USMC Class of 1977), our teams huddled up to go over the rules, flip the ceremonial coin and then the 27th installment of the Boozer Brown got under way.
It was obvious the alumni had come to play. I was stunned to hear their quarter-back calling plays – actual football plays like, “red dog five hook left” and “blue right 30 pull trap.” The ragtag group our dons had assembled possessed lots of talent but the coordinated approach of the alumni, coupled with the ‘creative officiating’ of former coach Lex Byrd, made it clear the alumni would be leaving with bragging rights. When the final whistle blew, the alumni had six touchdowns and the students four; you would have thought they’d won the lottery. (Lex, by the way, had coached the St. Mike’s team from 1978 to1993 and had led the team to an astonishing eight Mulock Cup championships.)
While reliving highlights at a post-game BBQ with the victors, I learned that the alumni-student game had been taking place since 1968. It was named after Bud “Boozer” Brown, a student instrumental in St. Mike’s winning its first football championship in 1930, the coveted Mulock Cup. I remember thinking how fortunate I was to have ended up at a college tailor-made for sports-minded students like me.
I attended the Boozer Brown again the following year as a student and then in 1998, St. Mike’s hired me as their new Dean of Men, involving me in the game in a new way. By this point, the intramural football program had folded, and some wondered how we’d be able to keep the alumni game going. But U of T began awarding the Mulock Cup to the winner of its intramural rugby program and by the mid-2000’s, SMC’s team was a powerhouse, regularly competing for the championship. I was very involved with the team back then and would always explain the historic connection between the football and rugby programs — and would inform our players it was their duty to participate in the annual Boozer Brown game!
Eventually, the intramural rugby league was discontinued, and it was once again time to re-imagine how best to keep the spirit of the Boozer Brown game alive. It was alumni athletes who came up with a great way to create a new athletics tradition. In the summer of 2019, a group of alumni approached USMC’s Advancement Office wanting to create two scholarships, male and female, to honour Lex, their former coach.
We decided to morph our annual alumni-versus-student game into an annual alumni-plus-student reception for the new award. The event would still give our football heroes the chance to connect with their teammates, but a more inclusive event would mean their ranks could be joined by all the great athletes, women and men, who’d competed for St. Mike’s over the years.
On November 30, 2019, SMC hosted the inaugural Boozer Brown Athletics Reception in Charbonnel Lounge. In addition to our esteemed alumni, we had a great turnout from our current crop of varsity athletes, all of whom were introduced by name in President Sylvester’s remarks. The women’s recipient of the initial Lex Byrd scholarship was Varsity Blues hockey forward Melissa Bieman, who is currently studying History and Philosophy. She came to the reception directly from Varsity Arena, where the Blues had just defeated Waterloo to move into first place in the OUA standings. Varsity Blues wide receiver Liam Cousineau, a 1st-year student whose goal is a double major in Political Science and International Relations, was the men’s recipient.
Attendees had an opportunity to reminisce about the past as well as stoke excitement for the future. While there may no longer be an alumni-student football game happening on the northeast corner of the campus, rest assured that sports are alive and well—and thriving!—at St. Mike’s.
By Duane Rendle, Dean of Students
From St. Michael’s Magazine: Winter 2020
Photos courtesy of the University of St. Michael’s College Archive. Check out more photos of athletics at St. Mike’s here: