If you think you’re the biggest fan of St. Thomas University’s sports teams, Nora Valentino may have something to say about that.
The native of Minto takes her self-appointed superfan title seriously. She has passionately cheered for the Tommies since she attended STU from 1983 to 1988.
“I really like sports. It’s nice when you know players and parents and coaches personally, too,” said the dark haired Valentino.
“I like going to watch games. I’m not one for staying home and doing nothing.”
Valentino, 53, got her first glimpse of sports when she was about 11 years old. She watched lots of hockey games while attending Rothesay Netherwood School from Grades 7 to 12.
Valentino even played field hockey at Rothesay Netherwood and at STU. She tried her hand at basketball at the private school outside Saint John before her university days, as well.
“I was too short, so I wasn’t very good at [basketball],” said Valentino, who is roughly five-foot-two.
Valentino took a year off following her high school graduation, then studied psychology at STU and took French for a year after completing her degree.
It was during her time as a student that Valentino came to love the now-defunct Tommies men’s hockey team. She didn’t start cheering for STU’s other sports teams until she began getting season passes after earning her degree.
“I remember walking down to the LBR [Lady Beaverbrook Rink], then walking back up the hill,” Valentino said about the small arena on University Avenue where the STU hockey teams played before Grant-Harvey Centre opened in 2012.
“If I had a test the next day, I’d study early so I could make sure to go to the hockey game.”
Valentino had some fellow Minto natives, Scott MacKenzie and Kirk Firlotte, who she watched in hockey at the time.
Since then, she has closely followed the university hockey circuit in Atlantic Canada. But her long-standing allegiance to the Tommies keeps her vocal about her disdain for STU’s cross-campus rivals, the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds (or as Valentino calls them, the UNB Squirrels).
Not only was the cancellation of the STU men’s hockey team last year for financial reasons a bombshell for the post-secondary sports community, but it made Valentino feel devastated.
“I cried a few tears,” she said. “People kept telling me it could happen, but I wouldn’t believe it.
“I enjoy seeing the girls’ games, but it’s not the same. Even when [the men’s team struggled for years], it was fun to be here and watch them play.”
As much as Valentino loves her Tommies, her unwavering support isn’t limited to STU teams. Since she was a child, Valentino has also favoured the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League.
Once the legendary Wayne Gretzky came on the scene in the late 1970s, she began rooting for Edmonton after initally being a Montreal Canadiens fan like her brother and late father.
“I had a big crush on Wayne Gretzky,” Valentino said with a chuckle. “I was pretty disappointed when he got married.”
Valentino collected Gretzky memorabilia when he was in his heyday and covered her walls with it. She also attended a game in Nova Scotia in the 1980s in which Gretzky played for Team Canada during the Canada Cup tournament.
“I’ve stuck with the Oilers through thick and thin,” said the humble and soft-spoken Valentino.
In other pro sports, Valentino enjoys Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
Locally, Valentino likes the Fredericton Royals senior baseball squad, the Fredericton Caps major midget hockey team and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Atlantic teams.
“I’m a jinx when it comes to my sports teams,” she said. “It’s a psychological thing. I usually post stuff [about games on Facebook] thinking the opposite thing might happen.”