50 Decades

50 years of OCAA

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BY TYLER BLOOMFIELD

Short shorts, low sneakers, afro hairstyles and a bunch of players trying to emulate Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain – 50 years ago this is what you might have encountered on a basketball court in the OCAA’s inaugural season. Today it’s much different.

Over the last 50 years the OCAA has expanded and evolved with the times. When the league was formed in 1967 there were only seven post-secondary institutions that competed in eight sports. Today, that league has expanded to include more than four times the members they started with and twice as many sports to compete in.

The OCAA’s membership encapsulates every person who contributes to it; whether that be the fans, players, coaches, referees, mascots or the people in the Athletic Department who handle all the logistics that make the league work.

“We’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings, from a couple of schools in ‘67,” says the current OCAA President, Scott Gray.

When Gray started in the league 11 years ago, he says he was surrounded by experienced people and soaked up any information he could get from them. He took every opportunity to learn about the inner workings and the history of the association so that he could be a part of the future. Now he is at the helm.

The OCAA president manages the operations and provides leadership working closely with the other six members of the executive committee. The president sits for two years as president and two more years as past president, which is another seat in the committee. Over the last 50 years the OCAA has seen 25 presidents shailing from all over Ontario.

The athletic directors act as the representatives for their respective schools for all things OCAA and vote on key matters that affect the association.

Gray says that the OCAA is constantly adapting and part of that is finding the suitable replacements for many of the seasoned vets.

“One of the challenges we are facing is that we have some long serving members around the table … some of them are moving on or retiring and [we are in the process of] replacing some of that history and some of that knowledge with newer, younger athletic directors.”

Past president Jim Bialek is no greenhorn in the OCAA. He has been involved in the OCAA for 35 years and been a convener for multiple sports and has watched the league grow, adapt and change since he’s been involved. He says he has seen his fair share of sports come and go.

“Back then it was not uncommon to see men’s and women’s hockey, flag football, [and] you even had football back in the day [in addition to] table tennis, archery, touch football things like that. Then [the OCAA] kind of scaled back to mainstream sports.”

While it may be difficult to define sport (see What Is Sport, p. 18) there are some challenges that the OCAA faces that are much more straight forward. Bialek says that one of the things the OCAA is always looking at is leveling the playing field for different sized schools. The student population among the 29 members ranges from schools with nearly 30,000 students facing off against some schools that have fewer than a thousand. According to Bialek a lot goes into making the level of competition fair for everyone, and in doing so has created a camaraderie within the OCAA.

“When you go to championships, your team is there, their team is there [and when] you’re hosting, It’s like ‘Oh come on in to the VIP,’ [and] you’re always welcomed with an extended hand. If there is anything I’m going to remember from the OCAA it’s that feeling,” Bialek says.

The Board of Executives work closely with the Executive Director to hammer out all the details and create opportunities for student athletes. Doug Gellatly is a jack of all trades. As the Executive Director he works with the board to develop plans, work with the members on how to stage events, manage the final budget and oversee the staff to ensure the OCAA is always moving forward.

Gellatly says the introduction of the Hall of Fame in 2003 was a big step for the organization.

“It really gave us an opportunity to capture the history of the organization and people who have contributed to the organization as builders or outstanding coaches or outstanding athletes. It really gave us the chance to recognize the history, create pride in the organization and recognize people who made contributions.”

“There’s an opportunity to have dialogue outside the business of sport [and that] makes the OCAA special.”

It’s not just the front office that feels the effects of the tight knit OCAA community.

At the 2017 badminton finals, Tammy Do and Phillip Bruce echoed the sentiments of Bialek and Gray.

“It’s amazing. It’s a family for sure. You see coaches walking around with babies and all the players from different schools trying to take care of [the baby],” says Georgian Grizzly Do.

Her partner Bruce says that the relationships he’s made in the OCAA badminton community extends off of the court. Bruce and Do hangout with players from other teams in their free time. They even have friendly badminton matches in the summer.

It’s not just inter-sport communities though, the OCAA provides a way for athletes from all different sports to socialize and to create bonds that traverse the sport.

“We have badminton players going out supporting the rugby and basketball teams,” says Do as she extends her arm to gesture to the championship badminton tournament happening in front of her. “The rugby boys are even volunteering right now.”

If there is one common denominator for OCAA officials and athletes it seems to be the sense of community that they feel when they are among their peers. The association provides a platform for student-athletes to not only compete but mingle and build memories with each other.

For 50 years fans have been cheering on athletes from colleges across Ontario who have been lining up across from each other to compete. Coaches have been nurturing their players on and off the field of play and the association’s executives has been pulling the strings from behind the scenes to grow the league seamlessly.

The next 50 years

Even as the OCAA executives who manage the association understand the importance of its past, they must have a vision for the future.

The core values and guiding principles aimed to maintain the integrity as the league moves forward. Values and principles like: Promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, leadership and personal development, honest and transparent communication, equal opportunities for everyone and of course fair play.

For Bialek he sees the association expanding into new sports and creating new opportunities for student-athletes. “Don’t be surprised if varsity cricket comes in to play in the near future [and] indoor track is probably going to come into play in the near future,” says Bialek.

The OCAA mission statement includes creating an environment which promotes academic success, provides a forum for personal development, complements the educational experience, and enhances student life.

Student athletes Do and Bruce both seemed to echo that sentiment saying that even though they are already integrated into the badminton world they say that they think the OCAA will keep expanding and growing like a community in the future.

That community expands beyond the person, the team and it even goes beyond the sport. The OCAA community is a welcoming and warm environment and it remains to be seen what is in store for the future.

“We’ve been around for fifty years and its our responsibility as leaders to make sure that it’s around for another fifty,” says Gray.

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