After a 30-year long career at U of T, Beth Ali retires

A picture of Beth Ali from her retirement party (all images by Barry McCluskey)
A picture of Beth Ali from her retirement party (all images by Barry McCluskey)

After a 30-year illustrious career at the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE), Beth Ali, executive director of athletics and physical activity, has retired from her position, effective July 2, 2024. 

Ali leaves a legacy of positively enriching the student experience and advancing gender equity in sport participation and leadership through her roles as administrator, coach and board member.

“Beth’s extensive contributions to sport, physical activity and co-curricular activities, including equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) initiatives, have left an indelible mark on KPE, the University of Toronto, and countless students, staff, faculty and community members, both past and present,” said Gretchen Kerr, dean of KPE. “Guided by the principle of human development through sport, Beth leaves behind a legacy of impact across Ontario University Athletics, U SPORTS, and throughout the Canadian sport landscape.”

Ali’s colleagues, teammates, players, family and friends all gathered recently at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport to celebrate her career and wish her well in the next chapter of her life.

Malinda Hapuarachchi, an assistant coach for the Varsity Blues field hockey team, first met Ali when she recruited her to play on the Blues field hockey team. A Level 4/5 certified coach with the National Coaching Certification Program in field hockey, Ali spent 17 years at U of T as intercollegiate manager, program manager and head coach of Varsity Blues field hockey before taking on more senior roles.

“Under Beth’s leadership, our team had a tremendous amount of success on the field,” said Hapuarachchi. “But, for Beth, it wasn’t just about the banners - although she loved to win.

“Beth brought out the best in people and, as an athlete, you knew she genuinely cared about you as an individual.

“Beyond being a coach, Beth was also a mentor, who provided guidance and support when you needed to make tough decisions, and helped you find the path that was best for you.”

Lesli Dal Cin has known Ali for over 40 years, crossing paths with her as a student athlete, member of provincial and national sport organizations and, finally, colleague in OUA and U Sports.

“Beth is a tireless advocate for the value of health, physical activity, recreation and sport as an essential component of the co-curricular experiences and campus life,” said Dal Cin. “More than increasing numbers and winning titles - although she had much success in both areas - Beth cared about fostering personal growth and development, and ensuring that student athletes leave the university as well-rounded citizens.”

The Varsity Blues captured numerous conference titles and individual awards during Ali’s tenure as executive director of athletics and physical activity, earning an impressive 11 provincial championships and two national titles this past season alone. During that time, the program also hosted provincial and national championships in two new state-of-the-art facilities and established blossoming partnerships with NBA Canada, Basketball Canada, BioSteel and OVO Bounce.

In 2023, Ali was recognized with the inaugural OUA Woman of Distinction Award.

“Her ability to blend a strategic vision with genuine empathy has made her a respected and influential figure, not just in her professional circles but in the hearts of everyone she has worked with,” said Dal Cin.

Linda Kiefer, assistant head coach of the Varsity Blues celebrated swim team, shared a top list of what made Ali so well liked as a person.

“She knew when to be tough and when not to be tough,” said Kiefer. “She could draw the line.”

Recalling the swim team’s U Sport championship wins in 2016 and 2024, Kiefer showed a picture of Ali jumping in the pool with the coaches to celebrate and said she’d never seen another athletic director do that.

“I know Beth will be reading a lot of books over the next little while with her grandson,” said Kiefer, displaying a copy of Dr. Zeus’ book Oh, the places you’ll go! “This is my retirement gift for Beth and I hope that one of the places she goes to when she retires is the spa – something we’ve been planning to do for years.”

Fighting back tears, Mary Beth Challoner, director of intercollegiate athletics & high-performance sport, said she felt a mix of gratitude, admiration and a touch of melancholy reflecting on the incredible career of someone who’s had such a profound effect on her life.

“For the past 15 years, I have had the distinct privilege of working alongside a truly remarkable individual,” said Challoner. “From the very beginning, she has been a steadfast pillar of support, a guiding light through both the towering triumphs and the most onerous challenges – in both of our lives.”

Challoner recalled Ali showing up for her mother’s wake in Whitby shortly after they started working together and being deeply moved by this act of compassion and support.

She described Ali’s leadership as a blend of thoughtful consideration and decisive action, which ensured objectives were met in a manner that was inclusive and respectful of everyone involved.

Calling her patient and wise, Challoner said Ali had the ability to see the bigger picture, to understand the nuances of any situation, and to offer guidance that is both practical and profound.

“Her legacy of excellence, compassion, and unwavering dedication to this program, to the people, to the University, but most importantly to the human development through sport will continue to inspire me and countless others for years to come,” she said.

Struggling herself to contain her tears, Ali said it was difficult to find the right words to describe her feelings in the face of so many heartfelt tributes.

“I am forever grateful to the University of Toronto for the opportunities it has provided," said Ali. "In the end, it is about the people and I have been blessed to work with an outstanding group of students, staff, coaches and colleagues during my time here."