By Eli Shupak
People can’t be blamed for seeing Ryerson over the years as one of the weak sisters of university athletics. A winning tradition didn’t exist in any sport the polytechnical school competed in. In fact, for many opponents, a date with the Rams meant an automatic win on its schedule.
It was still that way when I arrived on campus as a special student in the fall of 1993. I had high hopes upon entering Ryerson that this reputation would change with Alex Beason’s presence on the men’s basketball team.
Since I was so intent on gaining entry into the school’s journalism program, I decided to cover this team extensively while building a portfolio.
This six-year affair finally culminated in the OUA East championship last Friday night at York University. The win will probably be the last game I see as a student.
It marked the first time in history that a Ryerson team had qualified for the CIAU national championships in any sport.
The Rams’ 50-44 win over the Carleton Ravens Friday night did not come easy, but I was more confident of them winning that game after they had knocked out the defending conference champion Laurentian Voyageurs 74-66 the night before. (Laurentian had ended Ryerson’s season in three of the past five years.)
The Ryerson win secured the team’s spot among the elite eight and got them a ticket to next weekend’s big dance at the Halifax Metro Centre.
The Rams will likely enter the tournament as the eighth seed, playing their opening game next Friday against the top ranked team in the country.
This long-awaited first title was something I expected to happen five years ago when I made the trip to Sudbury for the Rams’ initial appearance in the East final.
To this day, I believe Ryerson had a better team than Laurentian that year, but in a one-game playoff on the road anything can and did happen.
Beason was assessed his third foul with five minutes left in the first half and was forced to sit, perhaps for too long. He was taunted throughout the night with chants by the Sudbury faithful.
In his first year with the Rams, Beason set a new CIAU scoring record, averaging 33.4 points per game. He led the team to its first-ever winning season (9-3) and was named the schools’ first All-Canadian athlete.
The next year Ryerson defeated Laurentian up in Sudbury in the semifinals, but lost a heartbreaker to the U of T in the final. The following three seasons all resulted in playoff berths, but three opening round defeats on the road followed.
The success of this young Ryerson team caps off what has been a remarkable run for the program.
“You can finally tell people you’ve won a conference championship and your next goal is to win a national championship,” said 18-year coach Terry Haggerty.
Haggerty will now have a much easier time selling Ryerson to potential recruits.
“Now they’ll see we’re not just blowing smoke. It’s very exciting,” he said.
Prior to the 1993-1994 campaign, the Rams had compiled a 48-250 record in their first 22 years of existence. They made just one brief playoff appearance and posted two .500 seasons in that time.
Since then, the team has recorded a 53-43 mark in the OUA East, playing at or above the .500 mark in each of those six seasons.
“Words cannot describe how special a moment this is for our team, our supporters, our alumni and Ryerson as a whole,” said Haggerty, who went to the games against doctor’s orders last week while battling pneumonia.
It was a game he or I wouldn’t have missed for the world.