Although Huskie Athletics is one of the most recognizable parts of the University of Saskatchewan, it is something that many students aren’t exactly familiar with. This was the position that I found myself in, when I began my year as the sports and health editor at the Sheaf.
In my mind, the job of a good journalist is to break things down and expose the truth — and that’s exactly what I decided to do. I set out this year to figure out Huskie Athletics for outsiders, myself included. Armed with a notepad, some questions and a sense of adventure, I dove into the world of Huskie Athletics.
The first time I had to cover an actual Huskies sporting event, I had a panic attack. It was some track and field meet, and I had no idea where to start or who to talk to. It’s hilarious, in hindsight — the sports and health editor of the Sheaf, standing outside of the Saskatoon Fieldhouse crying and dry heaving because I can’t figure out how to talk to sprinters.
Let’s get a few things straight: I am not a sports person. I might have grown up in the middle of Rider Nation and with a hockey fan for a father, but my interest in athletics has never extended beyond cheering for Team Canada during the Winter Olympics. My comfort zone tends to be in the world of politics, feminism and books. Simply put, I’m a huge nerd and about as far from athletic as you can get.
Although a panic attack is an extreme example, I think my discomfort with sports environments is part of a larger issue. Many U of S students are aware of the Huskies but have absolutely no idea what actually goes on.
“When I think of Huskie Athletics, I think of when I go to the bookstore and [the logo] is on everything. I know it’s our sports team, but I don’t know what kind of sports teams we have. I know that it’s the name of our university, and yeah, if I go to the bookstore, it’s on the sweaters, it’s on the pins — Huskie, Huskie, Huskie,” said Kim Hudson, a second-year linguistics student.
Although the Huskies are indeed everywhere, Hudson does not have a personal connection to any of the teams — or even a particularly favourable opinion of university sports in general.
“Though I’m proud of the university, I don’t have any association of pride with our sports teams. I feel like it’s a separate entity from the university altogether,” Hudson said. “I’m almost a little bothered that it’s the image of our university, when I feel like it’s not really — it’s not how I view the university — and most people I talk to, [that’s not how] they view the university — but it’s the image.”
Why are students so uninterested in Huskie Athletics, or even adverse to them? One reason may be the perceived culture that surrounds college sports. For Anastasia Sylvestre, a first-year student with the College of Arts and Science, sports culture is something that she feels extremely alienated from.
“Sports are intimidating. It’s very a hyper-masculine zone, as well as it’s meant for people that know what they’re doing … It’s hyper-masculine, that’s what it is. It’s scary, there’s big dudes and it’s scary,” Sylvestre said.
Personally, I know a lot of the ideas that I had about sports and athletes are the ones that I carried over from high school. Sports are intimidating. Sports are meant for tough athletic people. Sports are for men. Athletes are taller and better than me. Maybe sports are for some people, but definitely not for nerdy feminists like me.
Despite these preconceived ideas, I still had to carve out a space for myself in this world. Maybe sports weren’t for me, but I did need to find out why they were for other people.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Basil Hughton, the outgoing Athletics Director of the Huskies. If anyone knows a thing or two about university sports, it’s Hughton. He’s served as Athletics Director for the past nine years, following a long career in education and as a Huskie athlete himself.
When I asked Hughton about the role he sees the Huskies playing at the U of S, he emphasized the unique role that university sports can play in campus culture.
“This is a teaching, learning [and] research institution. That’s the prime focus of what we’re doing here. My background is in education, so I get that, but there’s all sorts of valuable things that go on at a learning institution that are extremely important to the culture, and I believe the athletic department is one of those [things],” Hughton said.
One major contribution that the Huskies make to the U of S comes in terms of media attention and positive public relations.
“I always ask people, ‘What is the role of a strong, vibrant athletics program in the culture of a Canadian university?’ I always insert the word ‘Canadian’ because it’s much different here than it is in the United States. I think the athletic program has a distinct role to play in terms of providing positive public relations for the university. We’re always in the media [and] most of the time [it’s] good,” Hughton said.
Hughton acknowledges that there are barriers that the Huskies must overcome in order to reach out to a wider number of students.
“There isn’t a large following. First and foremost, I think we’re trying to change that. We have — there are some events that are well-attended in the fall — homecoming weekend and the Blackout game,” Hughton said. “I think a lot of students aren’t aware that their student card allows them to come to games without an additional charge, so it’s free to them.”
There are two sides to every story. More than two sides, actually. The more time I spent in the world of Huskie Athletics, the harder it became to make any clear judgments.There are the ideas that I held going in, and there’s my own personal experience with sports. Then there were the experiences that were told to me as a journalist, and I found myself straddling two worlds: that of university sports and that of non-sports.
I tried to see myself as a bridge between these two worlds — a translator, if you will. I tried to write about sports for people who don’t understand sports and to ask questions as someone who knew nothing going in. I don’t know if I always achieved this, but I definitely learnt a lot.
The weirdest thing is that many of the ideas I held about student athletes turned out to be wrong. Some of the loveliest people I’ve spoken to this year have been student athletes. They’re incredibly dedicated and humble. I am in awe of the years and years of work that they have put into training for their sports and of the sacrifices that they have made.
I’m so impressed by the people that work behind the scenes at Huskie Athletics, too. The coaches, trainers and support staff are extremely devoted and competent at their jobs, and the athletics program couldn’t go on without them.
The second time I had to cover a Huskies event, I had a great time. I had the opportunity to attend a women’s hockey game, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Watching female athletes excel at such a high level — at a traditionally male-dominated sport to boot — was an incredible experience. Maybe there’s room for nerdy feminists in sports after all.
I’m learning to see the value in Huskie Athletics. It’s a whole world at the U of S, full of people who show the same kind of love and devotion that I have for campus journalism or student politics. Like anything else, it gives people a sense of pride and a sense of community, and those are incredibly important things.
Huskie Athletics is an important cog in the giant U of S campus machine. It makes up a part of campus culture that has so much to contribute. Just because something isn’t important to me, doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. And maybe the next time this nerdy feminist walks into a hockey rink, I’ll stick around.
Emily Klatt / Sports & Health Editor
Graphics: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor