FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Chris Jones

Red Deer College hosts rally to celebrate athletic success

It was a golden celebration fit for Kings and Queens. Red Deer College capped off their most successful athletic season in school history by honouring the athletic program during a ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

It was a golden celebration fit for Kings and Queens.

Red Deer College capped off their most successful athletic season in school history by honouring the athletic program during a ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

College faculty, staff, students and members of the community were on hand to recognize the 15 athletic teams, competing in seven sports, that put together a season that saw them win eight Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference medals and four medals at the national level, including three gold and a silver.

The volleyball Kings and Queens and the Queens curling team captured gold at the nationals while the basketball Kings came home with silver. But in the end it was a day to not only honour those teams, but all the student athletes.

“You see the athletes assembled here today, they’re extraordinary men and women . . . they’re leaders” said RDC president and CEO Joel Ward. “They’re all about team, all about collaboration and all about supporting each other . . . We have over 7,500 learners and the student athletes tend to take a leadership role and provide great role models. I believe this is important.”

Athletic director Keith Hansen agreed.

“It’s obviously a wonderful day and a wonderful way to celebrate what has to be an amazing year,” said Hansen, who played a major role in the college’s success, putting together a coaching staff that’s one of the best in the country.

Four coaches — basketball Kings Clayton Pottinger, volleyball Kings Aaron Schulha, Scott Bergdahl of the golf team and soccer Kings Steve Fullarton — were named ACAC coaches of the year. Schulha and Pottinger received Canadian Colleges Athletic Association coach of the year awards.

“As AD I think it’s important to get amazing people around you,” Hansen said. “The strength of our program is built on the strength of everyone in it and we have unbelievable staff and coaches.”

Basketball Kings star point guard Lloyd Strickland is finishing his fifth season at RDC and sees first hand what the support from the college means.

“To have our president (Ward) at the nationals shows how the support system here is so strong,” he said. “When I first came here I noticed how strong the culture was and it grew year by year. We were all super successful this year and I hope it will continue to grow, and I’m sure it will with the people involved.”

Strickland has also witnessed the support from the community and believes that’s equally as important.

“We all strive on community support and the buzz generated this year is huge for the college and the athletes. Only positives will come from it.”

Strickland was front and centre when it came to the buzz surrounding the college. His unbelievable performance in the national final against Langara College of Vancouver caught the attention around the world. Strickland nailed four long-distance three-point shots over the final 28 seconds to almost bring the Kings back to victory. In the end they lost 88-86, but everyone was talking about Strickland. He received thousands of hits on YouTube and recognition from CBC and Sports Illustrated to name a few.

“The infamous 28 seconds,” said Ward. “It’s something you’ll unlikely ever see again. But in the end all Lloyd wanted to talk about was the team and how he wanted to win as a team. That’s a story about how these athletes think. It’s a powerful story.”

Ward knows the RDC athletes will continue to have success and he wants to reward them.

“Our athletic facilities are some of the worst in the country and when we have teams of this calibre, winning national championships, I think it’s really important for the future of the community and the institution to have the kind of facilities that reflect that calibre of play,” he said. “When you see high schools with better facilities it says to me very clearly we have to work very hard to get the new facilities and the Canada Winter Games provides that opportunity.”

If Red Deer’s bid is successful, Ward and RDC look to build a new multiplex, which includes a field house, Olympic and NHL-sized arenas and a new performance gymnasium.

“It’s a great plan and sends a very powerful message to Red Deer that we’re serious about this institution and serious about our athletes and want to provide the best facilities — all our facilities — for learners and athletes who come here.”

If Red Deer doesn’t get the Games, Ward says there’s a Plan B and even a Plan C.

“We need the facilities built. We may have to scale it down a bit, but certainly we’ll move forward with a new facility.”

Ward also wants to see the college continue to grow when it comes to granting degrees.

“We learned this year that 25 per cent of the student athletes are part of our business degree program, we launched two years ago. Those students wouldn’t have been here two years ago and would have been helping the U of A or U of C win national championships. But they want to be here and providing more degree granting opportunities allows student athletes to stay with us longer.

“Central Alberta is going to need a university and we think we have a role to play in that whenever the decision gets made. We’re looking at a different type of university, a university of technology and design where we will still honour our trades and technology students with certificates and diplomas plus have more degrees to keep learners and athletes in Central Alberta.

“We want to build the student athletes great facilities and provide them with more opportunities so they can stay and finish their degrees here and stay and work in the community. Raise families here. The more students who stay the better for Central Alberta.”

The community is already playing a major role at RDC. This year individuals, who wish to remain anonymous, stepped up to keep curling part of the program and it resulted in Kaitlyn Sherrer and her women’s team winning gold.

“It says a lot about the community,” said Hansen. “It was on the brink of death and it comes back to win a national championship. Without a doubt the community supports us a great deal and we give back as well. It’s a win-win situation.”

The day also recognized the academic side as 48 student athletes had a 3.5 GPA or higher during the first semester and 97 have a 3.0 GPA or higher overall. Six individuals — Alex Moyer and Jessica Stewart of Queens soccer, Brooke Sutter of Queens basketball, Sam Brisbane of Kings volleyball and Andrew Jevne of Kings soccer — were academic all-Canadians. They have a 3.5 GPA and are selected to a conference all-star team.

“It says a lot about our student athletes,” said Hansen, who also has kind words to say about past leaders, starting 50 years ago with Wayne Lalor.

“Without a doubt every successful program has a strong foundation,” he said. “You look back over the years and everyone added to the program and tried to leave it stronger than when they took over.”

This year it certainly was. It was golden.

drode@bprda.wpengine.com

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