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Women team seeking varsity status
By Michelle Crespi
For three decades women's ice hockey at Western has been lost amid administration's thick red tape. However, recent events may soon return the sport to the Mustangs' sporting stable.
"Women's university hockey has existed since the 1950s," explained Ontario University Athletics women's hockey convener, Cookie Leach. The current OUA league, which consists of Toronto, Wilfred Laurier, Guelph, York, Queen's and Windsor just completed its third season.
Western, which has never had a consistent program, is one of only three Ontario universities which offer neither varsity or club play.
"Western did have a varsity women's hockey team in the 1970s," said Darwin Semotiuk, chair of Western's intercollegiate athletics. "However, it folded on the recommendation of the coach, since there was not enough interest and there was better competitive opportunities in the area."
It appears 27 years later, an interest in the sport has reemerged. This new interest is being led by Kerr Ferguson, a business analyst in the office of industry liaison at Western. In Sept 1997, Ferguson submitted a formal written application for women's varsity hockey to intercollegiate athletics.
"The application was structured based on the concerns intercollegiate athletics had about varsity women's hockey," Ferguson said. "Their concerns of the level of interest, level of competitiveness, availability of long-term coaching and money were each discussed and given solutions."
His submission was followed by a presentation to the Standing Advisory Committee for Intercollegiate Athletics in Dec 1997. He was then referred to the management sub-committee of the Standing Advisory Committee for their recommendations. In March 1998, the committee decided to defer, making a decision pending the review of a prior ad hoc athletic review committee report on intercollegiate athletics.
Ferguson said the ad hoc committee's recommendations ignored the request and the merger of the school of kinesiology and the school of health sciences resulted in Ferguson never receiving an answer to his application.
Given the delays, Ferguson said he sent a letter to the new dean of health sciences, Angelo Belcastro in July 1998, requesting immediate varsity status for women's hockey. The request for varsity status was denied since intercollegiate athletics was being fully reviewed by the Strategic Planning Committee.
Belcastro said he wanted to wait for the SPC's recommendations to ensure Ferguson could take the proper steps.
According to Ferguson, most of intercollegiate athletics' concerns had been met when the application was submitted. About 60 women, with experience ranging from rep to provincial teams, expressed interest, a stable university league was in place and one of the co-coaches was a tenured professor which ensured his long-term coaching availability.
Second-year french and biology student Jenn Knight, was excited about the possibility of playing university level hockey.
"It's about time," Knight said. "With an athletic school like Western there should be enough skilled players to field a competitive team."
Financial restraints are the only remaining concern.
"We have to consider what the program can afford," Semotiuk said. "If added in the current climate something would have to go."
Intercollegiate athletics is faced with the possible reduction in graduate students athletic fees and undergraduate fees. "They're in a tough position because of financial restraints," said Julia Morrow, president of the Western Women's Athletic Alumni. "The Western Women's Athletic Alumni supports the equal allocation of opportunities for all women athletes."
Women comprise 52 per cent of Western's student population and contribute $800,000 in fees to intercollegiate athletics. Only $200,000 is allocated to women's sports. This unequal distribution of funds is because of the larger number of male participants in varsity athletics. Gender equity is another issue being addressed by the SPC.
The SPC has no authority to include or exclude any specific sport, said the committee's chair Wes Dunn.
"The SPC has given contingent approval to the Sports Assessment Committee which will set the criteria for the assessment of adding and deleting varsity teams," Dunn said. "Every three or five years each varsity sport would have to be re-evaluated."
While Ferguson waits for the SPC's recommendations, he said he is already planning a club team for next year.
"We would like to gauge the interest in establishing a competitive women's team to compete in a local senior league for the 1999/2000 season," Ferguson said. "It is hoped this team will form the basis of a future varsity squad."
McMaster University is taking a similar approach in establishing a women's varsity hockey team.
"We do have to have two years of good standing [as a club team] before we submit a proposal [for a varsity team]," explained McMaster Women's Hockey Club president Danielle Esposipo. "And that's eventually what we want to do."
Althetes will be forced to cover fees which will amount to approximately $300 per season, and will be encouraged to seek individual sponsorship.
After reviewing the SPC's guidelines for adding a varsity team, Ferguson said he plans to take the necessary steps to make women's varsity hockey a reality.
"My outlook is optimistic," said Ferguson. "We are just waiting to find out what steps need to be taken."