By Steve Petrick
A wave of joggers scamper by the southwest corner of the track on the second floor of the Recreation and Athletic Centre. The 100-metre track overlooks the centre’s three gyms.
Below is a weight room so packed the smell of sweat overpowers the building. In the next room students casually shoot hoops. To the left is another court, which on this Thursday afternoon won’t remain vacant for long.
It’s noon hour and hundreds of students have already come to the centre.
“I wanted it like this,” says Bob Fullerton, Ryerson’s athletics director, as he points to the running track. “I wanted it to be very open so that new students running around would see badminton, basketball and other activities, and it’s proven so successful that we have about 1,000 students [using the RAC] a day.”
Fullerton arrived at Ryerson nearly 33 years ago from the University of Western Ontario where he prided himself in his involvement with intramural sports. After he was handed the job of athletics and recreation director, he worked to change a school that had few athletic facilities, little pride and no places for students to socialize between classes.
When he retires at the end of February, Fullerton will leave the school with an athletic facility designed to improve varsity athletics, intramural sports and school spirit.
After gazing at the track, Fullerton heads to the only quiet place in the RAC, a tiny conference room near the front doors.
In one corner of the dimly lit room is a poster with the word “Yes” splashed across the top and a black box with a check mark in the middle. A banner at the bottom reads “Feb. 20.”
On that day in 1985, students decided whether or not to increase tuition fees by $40 per year to fund a $5.2-million athletic centre.
The referendum passed easily. Nearly 70 per cent voted “yes.”
“We worked at it with such vigour and were so ardent that when we got the results, it was an overwhelming win,” Fullerton says. “But we were shocked that anybody voted no, which was rather naive. We were so involved in it, we thought that everybody would understand what we were saying.”
From the time Fullerton arrived at Ryerson, he said the school needed an athletic facility. He wanted a building that would not just give varsity teams the facilities to train seriously, but give all students a place to place intramural sports and meet with others.
When he first arrived, he said there were no student lounges or campus pubs and few student groups. “I would come out after 5 p.m.,” he says. “And everyone was gone.”
“[A fitness centre] can make an enormous amount [of difference] to students for feeling part of something. It goes beyond the health aspect. A university is a community.”
The apathy at Ryerson in 1967 was a huge contrast for Fullerton, who came to the school after spending nine years at Western as a student, teaching assistant and dean of a residence.
As a business student there, Fullerton played on the varsity football and wrestling teams, but he is most proud of his accomplishments in intramural play.
In each of his four years as a student, he won a championship in at least two of the four intramural sports he played—hockey, basketball, squash and track and field. He was the only student at Western to accomplish that feat in his time there and received a plaque.
Fullerton and his wife decided to leave Western in 1967 to raise their daughter sin the Beaches, in Toronto’s east end, where he grew up. Later that year he accepted an offer to teach business at Ryerson. But before he set foot in a classroom, administrators asked him if he could work in athletics part-time.
He accepted on the condition he could go back to teaching full-time any time he wanted. But he never left.
“Time goes by quickly,” Fullerton explains with a smile.
During his time here, he was president of the original Ontario Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a league comprised of new small schools, and became president of the OUA when the two amalgamated in 1978.
Since then, he has served as Ryerson’s voice at Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union and OUA meetings.
But the views he has expressed at meetings aren’t always shared by his own athletes and coaches.
Other universities have recently been lobbying for the CIAU to allow athletic scholarships for incoming students. Fullerton has been crusading against the idea even though most varsity players and coaches are in favour of scholarships.
Fullerton argues that athletic scholarships would not only be unfair to schools with small athletic budgets, it would make the athletes more like employees rather than students.
“Athletics are very important to students, but they have to be kept in the right perspective,” says Paul Wilson, athletic director at Trent University and one of Fullerton’s best friends.”I think Bob has always been good at doing that.”
Fullerton favours improving athletics for the entire student population as opposed to just varsity teams.
“When you’re in athletics, people think you’re thinking interuniversity,” he says. “But if you are then that’s a mistake.”
He coached the women’s basketball team in the ‘70s but has since become a mere spectator of varsity sports events. He prefers to give coaches freedom to their programs and lets them hire their own recruiters.
“Bob’s always been a good hands-off guy,” men’s basketball coach Terry Haggerty says. “He’s not the kind of guy whose going to memo you to death.”
When Haggerty started coaching at Ryerson 19 years ago, he had one of the worst teams in the country. But the additional training space the RAC provided made it easier for him to lure talented players to the school. The team evolved players to the school. The team evolved from pitiful to respectable and is now one of the country’s best teams.
But Fullerton is most proud of how the building has affected life for the average student.
“When we built [the Rac] the purpose was to build things for recreation and intramurals, which it did,” he says. “When it opened we didn’t have university status and students were asking, ‘Are we the same as Western or U of T?’ And when we got a place like this, that was better than anything they had, I think students stood up a little straighter.”
About 1,000 student rushed to purchase access cards the first week the RAC opened. Today’s the centre’s student membership is about 9,000 and more than 1,500 students play on intramural teams.
“For sure it has had a big impact on the university,” says Jennifer Myers, Intramural Recreational Specialist at the RAC. “I don’t think students realize just what kind of impact it has. Any day you can walk through here, you can be amazed at how full this building is.”