All-Canadian awards not in the budget for St. Thomas athletics

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

Kelly Vass was named All-Canadian for women’s basketball in the Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association at nationals last week for the second time in her four years at St. Thomas University, but she wasn’t there to hear her name called.

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)
(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

Last season, she received her award at Champlain College in Montreal.

This year’s CCAA women’s basketball nationals were held at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C. There were ten All-Canadians, but only 9 athletes showed up for the picture – Vass was unaware she had even received the award.

“I put in a lot of hard work for the last four years at STU,” Vass said. “It’s just upsetting to not be able to find out [about the award] from my school.”

Vass said nobody from the STU athletics department told her she had earned the award. Her boyfriend showed her after seeing the post on the CCAA website.

“It’s a big award, and the way I found out – it feels like nobody at STU cares,” she said. “What did they say when they called my name at the banquet? And I was the only one not there to get the award and represent my university?”

STU athletics director Michael Eagles said the decision not to send Vass to B.C. isn’t a new change in policy.

“We have not made a habit of doing that,” Eagles said. “Other schools are more than welcome to have their own policies, but at this time, we have not done it – and we’re comfortable with that.”

If Vass’s team had qualified for nationals, Eagles said she would have been able to accept her award. Otherwise, he says, the school doesn’t fund the trip to nationals for individual players.

In 2013, the athletics department funded Kayla Blackmore from the women’s hockey team to attend CIS banquet in Toronto when she received the Marion Hillard Award.

“Attendance at these events is not mandated and it is not uncommon for all-conference and all-Canadian non-participating team recipients not to have a hundred per cent representation,” Eagles said.

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, St. Clair College, Durham College and Dawson College all sent their players who earned All-Canadian awards, despite not qualifying for nationals. St. Thomas was the only school that didn’t have their All-Canadian winner at the banquet.

Dawson College Athletics coordinator, Joel Tyrrell, sent a female basketball player, Sarah St-Fort, from his school in Montreal to B.C. He said it’s important that players are rewarded for their hard work over the course of the season.

“The athletes have committed the time and effort to the program,” said Tyrrell. “Should they win such an honour as Kelly did, I feel it’s only fair they are given the opportunity to be present at the function to be recognized among their peers.”

Tyrrell said it cost Dawson College’s athletics program about $400 to send their athlete to nationals.

Communications and events coordinator of the CCAA, Rodney Wilson, said the CCAA subsidizes the cost for schools to send their players to nationals to receive their award with a travel equalization program.

There were four athletes from STU named All-Canadians. In addition to Vass, Jason Cannon and Marc Blinn from men’s volleyball and Will Barber from men’s basketball received the award.

Cannon and Blinn’s team made it to nationals, so they were able to accept their award in person. Barber didn’t travel to Hamilton, Ont. to receive his award, but that didn’t bother him.

“I’m not upset at all. I’m excited,” said Barber. “I’m glad that they chose me to win that award out of all the players in Canada. It shows my hard work paid off.”

Although Barber has found the silver lining, the issue hit closer to home for Vass, who over her four seasons helped the Tommies win three ACAA conference championships, and won a bronze and silver medal at nationals.

“It’s a big slap in the face,” she said. “You play four years and you do everything in your power to bring your team to a national championship – it’s just upsetting in every way.”