Giving student-athletes a sporting chance
McGill Athletics has a long and storied history, from the pivotal role the University has played in creating some of the world’s most popular team sports to the accomplishments of its student-athletes. Today, philanthropic support is helping Athletics pull out all the stops to build championship teams, upgrade its facilities, and most importantly, support students.
Student-athletes are finding support through gifts like the George Lengvari Basketball Award established by George Lengvari, BCL’66, a former captain of the Redmen hoops squad. The $1,000 award is given to undergraduates on McGill basketball teams to encourage their athletic achievements.
“It was a really big financial help for me,” says Te’Jour Riley, a political science major from Bermuda and Redmen shooting guard, who is among the recipients of Lengvari’s generosity. “Without the money, I probably would be going to community college back home. That scholarship meant a lot for me.”
In 2007, the University received the largest-ever gift for women’s university sport in Canada when two former McGill hockey players, David Kerr, BSc’65, and Sheryl Kerr, BCom’67, established a $1-million endowment to support the Kerr Women’s Hockey Coaching Chair. The very next year, the Martlets became the first McGill women’s team to win a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship in any sport – and they went on to earn a record three championships in four years. Peter Smith, the first coaching chair, has coaxed the most out of his young athletes that makes the Kerrs’ generosity seem particularly well placed.
The same might be said of the recent support for Redmen hockey in the landmark gift of $1 million from Stephen T. Molson, BA’63, and Nancy Molson to support men’s coaching, player recruitment and program development. The gift created an endowed position for the Stephen and Nancy Molson Redmen Hockey Coach now held by Kelly Nobes, BEd’97, MA’01. And like the Martlets, the Redmen seemed inspired enough by this remarkable donation to win their first-ever CIS national championship the following year, with a dramatic overtime victory capping off a tremendous season.
Will the Redmen football team be next? After several years of struggling, football at the University received a dramatic show of support in 2011 thanks to the largest gift ever made to a McGill varsity sports team, the Bob and Sue Winsor Redmen Football Program Endowment. The Winsors’ $1.5-million endowment will provide funding for coaching, player recruitment and program development, and is intended to lift McGill back into the top level of competition. Bob Winsor, BEng’62, was himself a member of the legendary 1960 championship team and is a long-time supporter of McGill student-athletes.
“Our student-athletes graduate and become tremendous ambassadors for McGill,” says Drew Love, Director of Athletics. “They go into the community and give back in so many ways, not just in the work that they do, but also in the volunteer activities they get involved in.”
It isn’t just varsity athletes who reap the benefits of philanthropy. Through the Students' Society of McGill University, the students themselves voted for the Athletics Facility Improvement Fee to provide $4 million over nine years to upgrade facilities, an amount matched by another $4 million private giving. Expansion of the Sports Complex – which receives 3,000 unique visitors daily – has doubled the size of the Fitness Centre, added new multi-purpose gyms, more new workout equipment like cardio and weight-training machines, and funded the construction of a martial arts room and space for golf instruction.