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Getting to know your U SPORTS athletics staff: Leo MacPherson, StFX X-Men and X-Women

U SPORTS Staff

U SPORTS sits down with one key athlete, coach, and staff member of each U SPORTS athletic program in our new interview series “Getting to know…”

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  1. Name: Leo MacPherson
  2. School: St. Francis Xavier University
  3. Position:  Director of Athletics & Recreation
  4. Seniority: 14 years
  5. Previous job/position: Team Lead, Bell Aliant
  6. Hometown: Antigonish, N.S.

 1. How did you get to your current position, and what do you enjoy most about your job?

I spent 16 great years in the corporate sector and really enjoyed it. However, I pivoted mid-career and made a choice between making a living and making a difference.  I was a student-athlete at X in my undergrad days, and the university had a profound impact on me. When students graduate and leave StFX, StFX never leaves them, and that was the case with me as well.  When the opportunity came up to become the athletic director at my alma mater, I seized it. My favourite part of my job is working every day with a very talented team of coaches and staff members, as we look to have a transformative impact on our amazing student-athletes and inspire them to become leaders and champions in life.  I’ve been very fortunate to make my passion and work one and the same. 

2. Who has had the most influence on your career?

There is no one person that stands out, as I’ve taken something from several great people and role models to help shape my own authenticity. Everything good that has happened to me in life is because of my family. Starting with my parents, who gave me a great start and foundation in life that instilled a belief that we can be successful if we build great relationships, did things for the right reason, and put in the effort required to make it happen. I’ve always had great support from my wife (Heather) and two daughters (Jennifer and Alison) who have been tremendous in their encouragement and support for what I do.  Throughout my career, I’ve also had some great mentors and benefited from their knowledge and insights, and I try it pay it forward as a thank you to them.

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3. What is your greatest sporting moment or achievement?

That’s a tough question as I’ve had so many wonderful memories over the past 13 years in this role. If I had to pick one, I’d say it was the 2006 women’s rugby national championship we had won. It marked the first national championship for a female team at StFX and set the stage for an additional four more national titles for our women’s rugby program. It’s absolutely wonderful to see how far women’s sports have come in Canadian university sport. 

4. How would you define a StFX University student-athlete?

I’d describe a StFX student-athlete as someone who has a passion to succeed academically, a passion to compete for and win championships, and most importantly, a passion to become a leader and champion in life. We work hard to recruit student-athletes who fit well with our university and who want to be the best version of themselves. Once they’re here, we invest in their growth and development, so they can become strong global citizens, ready to embrace a complex world. Once the student-athletes graduate, they stay connected as a member of the StFX family.

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5. What does success look like for the StFX University athletics program?

Although we are a small, primarily undergraduate university, we see ourselves as a national program.  As such, our goal is to punch well above our weight class and be nationally prominent and nationally competitive.  When done well, we mirror the overall excellence of the university and enhance the university’s visibility and reputation. Our student-athletes are very much at the core of everything we do, and we have success when they reach their full potential academically, athletically and as leaders. 

6. What’s the biggest challenge you face in today’s sports world?

Many universities in Canada are facing serious budget challenges tied to government funding, and athletics programs are certainly not immune to this challenge.  However, I think the biggest challenge we face in university sport in this country is the need to really understand, embrace and live our core values.  If we get the values right, it’s much easier for us to face the various challenges in front of us such as mental health issues, concussions, fiscal challenges, competitive parity across university sport, and the importance of integrity in sport.

7. Where would you like to see Canadian university sport in the next three to five years?

If I go back to my days as the President of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), I always thought university sport was an undervalued entity with so much potential, if we could only see the power of university sport as one. 

Our 56 members universities and our conferences have been so fragmented over the years, and that’s always hurt us when it came to national sponsorships and a unified strategy to move forward.  With all the heavy lifting that has been done in the last number of years, I think we are really finally gaining traction in terms of being “better together”.  U SPORTS can be a powerful sports property that stands out in a crowded sports marketplace as our reach and community presence is unmatched in this country.

So, in three to five years, I’d like to see a healthy, vibrant and strong U SPORTS brand that has more corporate partnerships helping us tell our story more effectively, which makes us more visible and more relevant.  This is starting to happen, and I have no doubt we will reach our true potential moving forward.

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8. If you could sit down for dinner with one person in the sports industry (athlete, coach or manager), who would it be? Why? What would you talk about?

I’ve been fortunate to meet two of my childhood sporting heroes, Ken Dryden and Joe Montana, so I’d have to say Jack Nicklaus would be someone I’d love to have dinner with and hear his wisdom. What I like best about him is not simply the success he had, but more so his life of significance. I’d like to talk about how he successfully navigated the various aspects and phases of his life. He changed the face of golf as a player, designer, businessman, philanthropist and a goodwill ambassador and throughout all of this, he was a tremendous family man. I did make it to his Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, but didn’t have the chance to meet him.  Perhaps one day I will.      

 9. What would you say to a sports fan who’s never watched a U SPORTS game/tournament/competition?

I dislike the fact that so many people say university sport is the “best-kept secret.” We have high-quality elite level athletes giving everything they’ve got to the sport they love, while maintaining a full academic load as students, and still find time to give back to their communities. On top of that, it’s very affordable entertainment. If you have children, bring them too, as there are 14,000 student-athletes across this country who make excellent role models and can help inspire the youth in our country. I know they did for me when I was growing up.  Come on out and you won’t be disappointed, and you just might see the next Prime Minister, CEO, doctor, lawyers and other leaders in action. 

10. What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from work?

I always enjoy a great golf outing, and it’s hard to beat a golf trip with great friends. I totally subscribe to the notion of life-long learning, and I have a voracious appetite for reading.  I seldom read purely for pleasure, as most of my reading is to gain additional knowledge, so I can get better in my role as a leader. However, the most enjoyable thing I get to do is spend time with our family. That often involves travel as one of our daughters lives in Calgary, and the other is relocating to Copenhagen, Denmark.  It’s a good thing Heather and I love to travel.