U of T celebrates student athletes with in person award ceremony

The Varsity Blues were celebrated with an in person award ceremony for the first time in two years (picture courtesy of Seyran Mammadov)

The Varsity Blues lined up this weekend and waited patiently to have their names checked off the guest list before entering the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport for a special awards ceremony in their honour. The last time the University of Toronto student athletes were celebrated with an in-person award ceremony was exactly two years ago - in April 2019.

“These have been two long, extraordinary years,” said Gretchen Kerr, professor and dean at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) in her welcome address. “We missed celebrating all of your achievements together and we are so excited to see you here today.”

Pre-covid, the Varsity Blues successes were celebrated throughout the year with the President’s reception, the banner raising ceremonies, the academic excellence breakfast and the annual Varsity Blues awards gala. On Saturday, they made up for the lost time by bringing all the events together in one major celebration of individual athletes and teams, including the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and University Sport (U-Sport) team champions, rookies and athletes of the year.  

“In addition to being students in a rigorous academic program, you had the added responsibility of training and competing, along with all the other demands you have outside of university life … and you did this all during a pandemic, with stop and start training, and modified training,” said Kerr. “Your resiliency over the last couple of years will hold you in good stead for whatever you choose to do after you graduate.”

Kerr also thanked coaches and all the support staff who contribute to the experience of student athletes, from the sport medicine staff to the intercollegiate administrative team to the registrar’s office.

“It truly takes a team to support and provide a positive university sport experience,” said Kerr. 

U of T President Meric Gertler brought greetings to the student athletes on behalf of the University. 

“For over 140 years, student athletes have donned the blue and represented the university with dedication, dignity and determination,” he said. “The group gathered here today is no exception. After much uncertainty, having to cope with multiple stops and starts, closures and re-openings, what you have accomplished in your sport is truly remarkable.”

In the year 2021-22, U of T welcomed 904 student-athletes to the Varsity Blues family. On Saturday, an impressive 316 of those student-athletes were celebrated for their academic achievements “in one of the world’s most prestigious universities, while balancing the rigours of a demanding training and competition schedule,” Gertler said.
The event also recognized 28 outstanding graduating student-athletes, who have excelled in their sport over the entirety of their degree program. 

“We used to announce these Silver T award winners at the President’s reception and we hope to be able to return to this tradition again next year,” said Gertler.

He also noted the award recipients represented all three campuses, all seven Arts & Science Colleges, first and second entry undergraduate programs that include Architecture, Applied Science and Engineering and Kinesiology & Physical Education, Law, Dentistry and Nursing, along with a number of graduate students from the School of Graduate Studies.

“Each and every Varsity Blues athlete is part of a tradition of exceptional student athletes who’ve done the university proud and have created a great legacy of excellence,” he concluded.

Julia Murmann, a first year Arts and Science student and member of the women’s volleyball team, won the rookie of the year award. She thanked her teammates for supporting her on and off court.

“After the first lockdown, we came back stronger and more competitive. You made me a better player and student and I can’t thank you enough for that,” she said.

Kinesiology major and baseball pitcher Grant Shantz won the George M Biggs Trophy. He thanked his teammates and the Varsity Blues community.

“Everyone from the administration team to the coaches, trainers and support staff – you helped create memories with us,” he said.
Fellow kinesiology major and track and field star Fiona Huang won the Clara Benson Honour Award and thanked the track and field team for providing a community, especially during covid.

“They were like family,” she said. “Thank you also to Varsity Blues for providing us with the space to excel academically and athletically.”

Athlete after athlete spoke of their pride in being a Varsity Blues and continuing the tradition of excellence – in sport and in academics.

Wrapping up the event, Beth Ali, executive director of athletics and physical activity at U of T, said the last two years were rife with trials and tribulations. 

“But this group never became disconsolate,” she said, addressing the student-athletes. “You were ready to go, even when we started and stopped again, you just kept your heads down and kept going. What you achieved was outstanding.”

Ali also commended the commitment of the staff and coaches. 

“The sport medicine staff, the strength and conditioning trainers, all the production staff, the event staff, the staff in finance and HR, they all make sure our operation runs smoothly,” she said. “These are the people behind the scenes who wear their Blues colours proudly. And, like you, they all bleed Blue.”