Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gryphon runners prepare to take on the world

With the national competition handled with relative ease, several members of the Guelph Gryphons cross-country team will now ply their trade on the world stage, as members of the Canadian team in Sunday’s Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) world championships that will be held in Kingston, ON.

Gryphons lead the way on the men’s side, led by two-time CIS cross-country champion Matt Brunsting, who will be joined by his Gryphon teammates Allan Brett and Kyle Boorsma, along with Nigel Wray, who will serve as the alternate. The six-member men’s team will also feature Dave Weston and Kyle O’Neill from Western, and Kelly Wiebe from the University of Regina.

On the women’s side, the Gryphons will also have a commanding presence, led by CIS silver medalist Lindsay Carson, along with her teammate Rachel Cliff, who recently won a pair CIS gold medals in track and field. They will be joined on the five-member team by two-time CIS cross-country champion Megan Brown from U of T, Sherbrooke’s Valerie Belanger and Jess Pearo from McMaster.

Chris Moulton, one of the Gryphons coaches, will also be on a staff led by Western’s Bob Vigars.

“This event is so unique because of the range of athletes that participate,” said Moulton, who did note that in order to participate, runners must be full-time university students. “Many of these athletes have international experience and can range in age from 18 to 29.”

In fact, all of the Gryphons participants have international experience, except for Brunsting, who has been injured on two previous occasions, which kept him from running.

Moulton will be working predominantly with the Canadian men’s team in Kingston, helping to prepare them for Sunday’s 10km event, while McMaster coach Rory Sneyd will lend his expertise to the women’s 5km event.

“We’ll cross over wherever we need to,” said Moulton. “But, my role will be very logistical and managerial, which is great for me, because it fits with what I do in Guelph.”

Canada has never medaled at the FISU cross-country championships, and although Moulton did not want to tie himself to a prediction, he is optimistic for both genders.

“This is one of the strongest [Canadian] teams that we’ve ever put forward in recent years,” he said. “The level of CIS cross-country running keeps getting stronger and stronger.

“I’m looking at our potential top three women with Lindsay, Rachel and Megan and those are three unbelievable talents who have competed internationally. We’re blessed.”

Brunsting voluntarily held back throughout the indoor season in preparation for the FISU championships, and will be looking to continue his success on the Fort Henry Hill course, the site of his CIS title in November.

“This will be a great way for Matt to finish his university career,” said Moulton. “He has unbelievable faith in himself and a big part of his year was planning for the FISU race.”

Despite their outstanding history of experience and success running at the international level, Brunsting and Carson have also been dogged by injuries this season. Moulton, however, quieted any speculation that two of Canada’s top runners would be hampered this weekend.

“Lindsay raced 5km in Hamilton last weekend and finished with a time of 17:10, which is pretty good. She’s coming along quite well and she’s such a tough athlete,” he said. “She’s fit, healthy and ready to go.

“Matt just does so well in cross-country. His health is good. His past two weeks of training have been great. He’s ready to go.”

Moulton believes that hosting the event will provide a degree of home field advantage for the Canadian team, which has never run FISU cross-country on Canadian soil.

“This race has never been held in North America, so hopefully it provides a boost,” said Moulton, who also recognized the strengths posed by teams from Japan, France and Great Britain. “I really think that we can be in the mix. We’re a deep team.”

Hesitant to hand out congratulations

On Sunday, the Saint Mary’s Huskies won their first CIS men’s hockey championship, defeating the Alberta Golden Bears 3-2 in an overtime thriller.

The success of the Huskies, though, has often been overshadowed by the story of a particular player on the team: Mike Danton.

Some of you may remember Danton from his brief stint in the NHL, an uneventful 87-game career with New Jersey and St. Louis that abruptly ended in 2004 when he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Danton later pled guilty for his actions in a murder-for-hire plot that saw him hire an undercover police officer to kill his agent, David Frost, a man with whom Danton shared a suspicious relationship.

Details of the conspiracy remain somewhat vague due to Danton’s unwillingness to speak in detail about the case. It was later reported that Danton’s target was not Frost, but rather, his own father. In an unrelated, yet equally puzzling matter, Frost was also charged and later acquitted of 12 counts of sexual exploitation with young males and females between the ages of 14 and 16 during his time working in junior hockey. Frost has always been known as a controlling and mysterious agent, with his relationship with Danton arguably being the most troubling of all.

The details of the Danton-Frost incident have been written about at length – both in newspapers and on the internet – and make for very interesting reading that I would recommend to anyone.

Danton spent 63 months in the American and Canadian prison systems before being paroled in September 2009. In January, the 29-year-old forward became a full-time student at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) and began playing for the university’s varsity hockey team.

Huskies players, head coach Trevor Stienburg, and athletic director Steve Sarty all stood behind the decision to bring Danton into the league.  But I’m hesitant to offer congratulations to a player with Danton’s baggage.

I have written at length about the purity of Canadian university sport and its refreshing absence of gossipy dramas, salary issues and egos. And sadly, Danton’s participation in the league works against everything that I believe is right about CIS athletics.

Danton’s crime was very serious; it was not petty theft or speeding. He was convicted and incarcerated for a lengthy period of time for trying to have someone killed. Regardless of the fact that he has served his time, is this the kind of individual that should be representing Canadian university sport? At 29 years of age with a serious criminal conviction to his name, a league of 18 to 23-year-old university athletes is not his place.

Other writers and supporters of the Huskies have applauded SMU for its benevolence in helping with Danton’s rehabilitation; however, it is also worth noting that prior to when Danton joined the team, the team struggled to attract fans. Following his addition, ticket sales skyrocketed, suggesting that administration looked at the opportunity to add Danton as a chance to draw attention to a struggling program, regardless of his background.

I recognize that life is about second chances, but there is a time and place for these examples of one’s character reinvention, and this is not one of them.

I have spoken to numerous varsity athletes in the past two years and I can confidently say that these are some of the most passionate, committed individuals of high character that you will ever meet. To think that Danton took the roster spot of one of these athletes is deplorable. The decision of the athletic department at SMU to allow a player of Danton’s status to take the place of a student-athlete with a similar level of talent and far higher level of integrity is truly sad.

Gryphons prepare to assume new summer roles

They say that those who can’t do, teach. But, during the summer months on the University of Guelph campus, those who ‘teach,’ can also ‘do.’

During the summer, the department of athletics hosts a number of youth sports camps, aimed at developing the skills of elementary and high school-aged students. The Gryphons varsity coaches direct these camps, but the staff is comprised of Gryphons athletes, who bestow their knowledge, skills and experiences upon budding young athletes.

Jasmine Douglas, the star second-year forward from the Gryphon women’s basketball team, is one of those specially selected varsity athletes helping to staff the women’s camp.

“This will be my third summer working at the camps, so I believe that I will be given more responsibility this time around,” said Douglas, who will be joined by teammates Samantha Russell and Kara Muhlhausen on the basketball staff. “I’ll be looking to be more of a vocal leader to not only the campers, but also to other counsellors, as this is a skill I am looking to improve on in general.”

Douglas looks at this upcoming experience not only as a chance to give back to the Guelph community where she grew up, but also as an opportunity to provide young female athletes with quality training.

“I want to teach them that females can play basketball, or any other sport for that matter, and to not be held back because of their gender,” said Douglas. “We teach the kids that with hard work and determination they can play basketball at the university level too.”

Gryphon men’s and women’s basketball head coaches, Chris O’Rourke and Angela Orton, will be leading the basketball camps, and hockey, football, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse and track and field youth camps will also be offered and directed by Shawn Camp, Rachel Flanagan, Bill Brown, Keith Mason, Paul Funk, Sam Kosakowski, Chris Moulton and Dave Scott-Thomas – all of them being Gryphons varsity coaches.

In watching Douglas play university basketball, her enthusiasm and work ethic is virtually unparalleled. No rebound is beyond her reach and very few players attack the basket with her tenacity.

“I think the most valuable thing that I can bring to the camp as an instructor and staff member is my work ethic and overall enthusiasm for basketball,” she said. “Also, [I can] show kids that with hard work and determination, they can improve immensely, as well as having fun along the way.”

Despite never having the opportunity to participate in similar camps when she was younger, Douglas, who instead, honed her skills playing against her male friends on the playground, recognized the importance of teaching fundamentals of the game at a young age.

“It is very important for young women to have such great opportunities to further develop their skills, because with some of the campers being younger, it allows them to be able to start learning the basics earlier on,” she said. “It’s always nice to see a camper that struggles with a skill at the beginning of the week, be able to see them progress with it, and by the end of the week have them excelling at the skill.

“This shows how practice and hard work goes a long way in your development as a player."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Gryphtalk weighs in on Stu Lang hiring

On today's show, we rolled up our sleeves to discuss the Stu Lang hiring by the Gryphons football program. Interviews included athletic director Tom Kendall and former Gryphons quarterback Justin Dunk.

Click HERE to go to the host site for today's show. First select "Regular Download" on the right, and then on the next page, the actual mp3 download link is at the bottom.


photo credit: Rashaad Bhamjee