BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
There?s a battle being waged in Ontario and Canada on the issue of athletic scholarships.
And Laurentian University?s Peter Hellstrom is on the front lines trying to get a better system in place for Ontario universities.
As it stands right now Ontario universities are allowed to offer a maximum of $2,500 for an athletic scholarship and the student must maintain a 70 per cent average.
Other Canadian universities can offer full tuition and fees as long as the student maintains a 65 per cent average.
Hellstrom, the athletic director at the university, said he believes the Ontario system is detrimental to university athletics.
Laurentian is one of only four universities in Ontario vying to better the scholarship program.
The issue has divided Ontario universities and has hindered their opportunities to recruit and compete at the national level.
Q: Why is there a scholarship issue right now in Ontario and Canada?
A: The majority of Ontario schools don?t believe in giving full scholarships like tuition and fees because they feel it?s too much of a financial burden and we will turn into an NCAA-type association. The financial resources are here and we?re truly all about amateur sport in Canada.
In the NCAA they go for the big football bowl wins or an appearance in March Madness. That?s big money for them because it means big business. In Canada, our athletes play for the pride of a national championship, not a big money prize. The rest of Canada gives full tuition and fees and it hasn?t turned into a NCAA-type association.
Our small group believes our athletics in Ontario are at a big disadvantage.
Q: Does Laurentian have the necessary funds and support to run a better scholarship program?
A: Yes we do. We have the financial resources in place already and we also have the support from administration, our alumni and friends of Voyageur Athletics to go out and get more finances. Alumni has always said they would love to help with scholarships and bursaries rather than operations.
Q: This issue has driven a wedge between universities in Ontario. How bad is that scenario?
A: I think it?s really bad. We?re all in this for the same reasons. Philosophically, we may have some differences, but we should be able to follow the national rule of full tuition, fees and the 65 per cent minimum average to maintain scholarships. Unfortunately, each conference has the ability to follow more strict rules. It hurts Laurentian and it hurts the OUA?s advancement in sport. The wedge is there and it?s not good for Ontario university sports.
Q: Why are you fighting to better scholarships in Ontario universities?
A: I am a former athlete and I think we should maintain and keep our athletes here and allow them the opportunity to stay in Ontario and Canada and grow our grassroots system. It?s a great recruiting tool and we have a very proud and successful athletic program. I think for us to offer athletic scholarships, which our administration stands by, is a bonus not only for our recruiting, but for our pride and success.
Q: What happened at the 2003 annual Ontario University Association (OUA) meetings in Hamilton back in early June?
A: We wanted to get a consensus on where we were going to vote for certain motions regarding athletic scholarships. The schools in favour of athletic scholarships were fairly happy with the way the OUA was looking at the issue. We discussed having a minimum 65 per cent average to maintain athletic scholarships as opposed to the 70 per cent that?s now in place in Ontario. We discussed with the universities totally opposed to athletic scholarships in some form if they will drop their philosophy of 70 per cent to 65 per cent. The schools I talked to said they would try and talk their presidents into the drop. By having the higher average, we?re only hindering our own recruiting process.
Q: What happened at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) meetings in Canmore, Alta., in late June?
A: There were 12 motions put forth relating to athletic scholarships in some form. We are trying to find a common ground...whether it be average (marks), eligibility or number of athletes who could receive scholarships. For example, the Atlantic conferences want only 50 per cent of their athletes on their rosters receiving scholarships.
To me that?s not right. If you have 12 guys on a basketball roster, why should only six get scholarships if you have the money to give out 12? The OUA came out of the meetings seeing a little more control and better opportunity for smaller schools. I used to think the OUA was hindering our progress by being too broad-based, but they?re starting to change and allow a little more flexibility in this area.
Q: Do you foresee big changes in the future?
A: Yes I do. There?s more than four schools now that are on side for better scholarships in Ontario. I am starting to see schools dead set against athletic scholarships change their thinking. I think they are looking at their system and saying we?re supposed to be the highest level of athletics in Canada, so let?s keep our athletes here.
Q: How does the experience at a school like Laurentian compare to a NCAA school?
A: We offer a better experience. I?ve experienced both. We have a solid academic and athletic base here. I think if an athlete isn?t getting into a top 25 program down in the United States, they?re better off staying in Canada, if they can get into a top 10 program in the country. The athlete will get enough exposure and just as good coaching.
Q: Is university athletics a viable product in Northern Ontario?
A: Yes it is. I think one can attest to that by the recruiting we?ve done here. Our basketball teams have some great recruits coming in this year. Our swimming roster now has a full roster of 18 male and female athletes. Our women?s soccer program is three years old and already we?ve been a .500 team, made the playoffs and challenged a national contending team to a 1-0 playoff loss. The teams we have right now are well funded and well coached. I think we can boast graduation rates here as well. If you look at graduation rates in Canada, we?re extremely high for student athletes and that?s how we should be measuring student athletic success as well. Sports are alive and growing in the north and Laurentian provides a great opportunity for kids.
Q: What are the benefits of having athletics at Laurentian for Sudbury?
A: We bring in student athletes who are going to accomplish an education. They in turn market our school and the City of Greater Sudbury to people from where they come from...We tour around and people see the Lady Vees or the Voyageurs and people think of Sudbury. Alumni always come out full force when we visit other schools and it shows a strong connection to Sudbury.
The hospitality industry, like the Howard Johnson Hotel, is happy we?re involved with them because during the eight months it?s quiet in Sudbury we utilize 400 to 500 rooms because of visiting teams. Not only does Laurentian have a great economic impact, but the athletic department does as well. When teams come in to play us they spend dollars at our hotels, restaurants and stores.