It’s Dec. 2, 2000 and the 36th Vanier Cup has just come to a close. One finalist is a seasoned championship veteran: the Ottawa Gee-Gees. The other is in its first national championship: the Regina Rams.
Though the Gee-Gees narrowly bested the CIAU newcomers 42-39, the Rams carved their name into Canadian university sport history. How? It was just their second season as a Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU) team and they made it to the national championship contest.
Their success came through the vision of former University of Regina athletic director Dick White - one of his many achievements throughout his 19 years guiding the Cougars program and part of a legacy of growth and respect he hopes the school continues to foster, having moved retired from his post in 2014.
“Teams don't always win national championships, but I think a university can be very well respected for how it operates its program,” says White, who was honoured Monday night at the BLG / U SPORTS Awards Gala with the Austin-Matthews Award. “That would be very much what I hope we can continue to achieve.”
White – who was recognized as an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to interuniversity sport, as demonstrated by long-term commitment and leadership as a coach, director, chairperson and/or executive committee member at the local, provincial and/or national levels - has a long history with University of Regina Athletics. He started as an administrative assistant and athletics coordinator in 1981 and moving up to athletic director by 1995. Throughout his time with the program, the Cougars moved from six varsity teams to 16, created more women’s teams to support their growing female student population and saw several new facilities built including a new gym, new hockey arena and new field, all to meet the growing demand for sport on campus.
“More than anything else there was demand from some sectors…Football approached us, as well as track and field and swimming, women’s soccer, hockey,” White explains. “There was demand from those sport communities that we wanted to be able to meet.”
The University of Regina also hosted five national championships, claimed three national titles and 17 conference championships throughout White’s tenure. With White at its helm, the Cougars became a contender on a national scale, not only in terms of results, but in how the athletics department as a whole was viewed. Most importantly forWhite, the program created leaders -- a cornerstone of university sport in his eyes.
“We were someone who, win or lose, needed to be respected and respected for the way our athletes played, the competitiveness of them and the quality of people they were,” White says. “I think, when I look back … we achieved that.”
His contribution to football on campus is also one that can’t go unnoticed. With a new community partnership model, White and the University of Regina athletics department brought the Regina Rams junior football team into the Canada West conference and the CIAU after 45 years playing in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL). The partnership provided a football team to the University of Regina and a higher level of competition for the team’s athletes, alongside the opportunity for some to transition into post-secondary education.
“Some (football) players probably wouldn’t have attended university, but they did, including one…who has his MBA …and went on to get a couple of degrees,” former Rams president Larry LeBlanc says.
LeBlanc also spoke to White’s knowledge of university sport as being instrumental in bringing the Rams to the U of R. Whether it was roster size, eligibility, tie-breaking procedures or scholarship cap information, White’s understanding of the higher level processes were essential to intertwining the two programs.
“In terms of things that stand out … (White’s) knowledge of the CIAU, CIS and Canada West policies and procedures, and there are a lot of them…(he) knew those policies like the back of his hand.”
On a national scale, White played — and continues to play — a pivotal role in university sports in Canada. Beyond his current position as chair of the U SPORTS Men’s Hockey Sport Technical Subcommittee, he has held several positions with both the national office and Canada West, including president of the CIS board from 2005-09 and 2013-14, and president of Canada West for two years.
“For me it was an opportunity to provide leadership and to learn about the operation of the national organization and to hear from people across the country on a consistent basis,” White says when asked about his national contributions. “I think, I was able to...grow a perspective in being able to hear from leaders from coast to coast and to tackle those challenges with a great group of colleagues, and try to make the organization better.”
His contributions to Canadian university sport and to the University of Regina’s athletics program are, evidently, invaluable. But when speaking with White, you realize perhaps his most striking characteristic is his selflessness and his devotion to the Cougars program. He never says “I,” but rather, “we”. His successes are the University of Regina’s successes, or that of Canadian university sport.
“If we look throughout our communities, in sport and elsewhere, we will see many university athletes who — at least in part as a result of their participation (in university sport) — are important leaders in the community,” White explains.
The legacy White leaves behind at the University of Regina fosters leadership and builds a foundation to continue doing so in a community that thrives on sport — an outstanding contribution to interuniversity sport and one that will have an impact for years to come.